The worst effect of that cold I’ve been battling for the past few weeks is the cough. It’s not so bad during the day – in fact, it’s almost gone as I sit down with this post on a chilly Friday morning – but since Monday or Tuesday, it had been waking me up at 3:00 in the morning. When you’re coughing in the dark, waiting for cough medicine to take effect – or hoping you won’t have to get up and take another dose – it’s easy for the mind to start wandering down “what if?” trails, imagining potential catastrophes their even-more-potential implications, and the barely-possible consequences of those implications. In the light of day, those imaginary trails seem ridiculous (nothing is impossible, but it’s highly improbable that I’ll end up homeless, penniless, sleeping under a bridge in the next few months). But in the moment, in the dark, remote possibilities and half-impossibilities can take on a compelling, though false, “reality” of their own.
Factory-model, time-on-task thinking – the mindset of the good little worker seeking gold stars from the big distant boss – is a lot like that. In the light of day, outside the heat of the moment, the whole thing looks sad or ridiculous. But in the moment, when you’re busy, when there are important tasks to do and people to impress, it all seems so real, so solid, so weighty.
I had half-expected Thursday to be a factory-day … but it wasn’t. Our new, dynamic assistant principal stopped by … and asked if I’d like him to find storage space for the textbooks I haven’t used in years. In preparation for that upcoming visit by The Powers That Be, several pairs of eyes were looking around, helping to spruce the place up … and while all of them acknowledged the irony, even the silliness, of making everything look “just perfect,” we all agreed that it’s good to have a reason – even an excuse – to spruce things up at a time of year when things tend to get dusty and musty. ”Just let me know,” was the message, “if we need to get some border for bulletin boards or anything like that” – a remarkable message for good little workers who’ve “always” been expected to go and buy their own.
My Latin II students spent most of their time preparing for their first “Minor Assessment” project. Each group – self-chosen groups varying in size between one and seven – drew from the metaphorical “hat” one of the Tres Columnae Project Lectiones we’d read in the second half of Latin I. Their task: to re-read the stories together, looking for significant and repeated vocabulary, important words and actions, and interesting Roman cultural products or practices. They’re making or finding images to go with the vocabulary; creating simple Latin summaries of the actions; and finding – and curating – online resources about the cultural elements. Thursday was our first “laptop cart” day of the new courses, and everybody spent more time engaged in the assignment than surreptitiously doing other stuff. And my good friends whose offices are directly below us – with a wooden floor, dead air space, and ceiling tiles that together function like an amplifying drum at the worst of times – were happy to announce that they hadn’t been distracted by our movements. We’ll be finishing up the preparation and production phases of the project today – there’s an early dismissal due to the threat of bad winter weather in the afternoon, so the Latin II classes are cut a bit short – and starting presentations on Monday. Several groups have already sent me PowerPoints and physical products for the vocabulary phase, and almost everyone was excited by how much they could read, how well they could understand, especially if they’d struggled with the same set of stories a few weeks or months ago.
For the upper-level class, it was our second day with the opening section of Caesar’s Gallic Wars. We started out with an analytical exercise – classifying noun forms and functions in a passage we’d read the previous day – which would utterly frustrate a beginning Latin student (trust me, I know from experience!) but was simple and straightforward for them. I asked the Latin IV group to “read until it gets frustrating,” then find the rest of Book I online and start looking for other important things that Caesar talks about – and they did, and they mostly enjoyed both the struggle and the background work. For the AP group, our goal was to distinguish reading for meaning from the kind of “literal” translation they’ll be asked to do in May … and we also had a wonderful conversation about the parallels between Caesar’s intervention with the Helvetii and current geopolitical issues. ”I really like this,” said B, who’s seriously considering taking a lot more Latin in college now.
Then, on Thursday afternoon, what could have been a “just get it done” meeting turned into a thoughtful discussion of the task, a great conversation with colleagues I don’t get to spend enough time with. And by dinner time, my appetite – which had been all but absent for days – was starting to return.
Responding to Thursday’s post on Google+, Debbie brought up the vital importance of agency:
what will today bring … only “I” have the answer. How will “I” interpret the events, how will “I” use them as stepping stones towards my goals?
And Maureen asked a question I need to ponder more:
I’ve been thinking of the movement from “management” in schools to “engagement” –links? thoughts? Really makes a difference in what we do.
Part of my sour mood on Tuesday stemmed from a sense of management, of a lack of agency – but it was mostly self-imposed, like my midnight imaginings of “certain” disaster. In the light of day, joyful community is a lot closer than it appears. What can I do today, each day, to help it grow?