At lunch the other day, Mr. Y had a question … a question about a concept in His Content Area that he’d be teaching after lunch. “Do you do This or That in this particular situation?” he asked. He was surprised when I knew, even though I don’t teach That Subject. “It really makes sense when you stop and think about it,” I said – not adding, though thinking rather loudly, some things about general knowledge and understanding. “But My Content Area usually doesn’t make sense,” muttered Mr. Y. “That’s why it’s My Subject Area.”
I didn’t get the impression that his colleagues were impressed, and (very much on purpose) I haven’t looked to see if any of my students have Mr. Y for That Particular Class. In his defense, it’s a New Topic for that course, thanks to the New Curriculum, and – as Mr. Y noted the other day – there are no textbooks designed to be used with the New Curriculum. And of course that means there’s no teacher’s guide, either.
Looking back, I realize this was another case of clashing expectations. For whatever reason, I expect teachers to be – or want to be – well informed and interested in stuff; Mr. Y doesn’t. He sees his role as the Deliverer of Information; as long as he has some information to deliver, preferably pre-packaged for ease of delivery, he’s happy and comfortable. The idea that you might really remember basic principles in Your Content Area – or, even more remarkable, in Another Content Area – shocks and surprises him, even though, like Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y over the years, he complains bitterly about students who “forgot stuff and I know somebody taught it last year.” Many A Ms. X has no compunction about using “the book’s tests” or The Answer Key, but is shocked and stunned when “those bad, lazy kids” find a copy, or when they download the Answer Key from the same online site where she downloaded the worksheet and copied it, URL and all, as a “neat little activity” for her classes.
For all the Posting of Objectives and other task-focused things factory-model schools do – or require, or claim they require – to communicate their expectations to students, teachers, and everybody else, we run into clashing expectations every day. C was surprised by a low grade on his progress report: “I did all that work and turned it in,” he said. “The only thing I didn’t do yet was the first Minor Assessment.” Yes, that’s true, C … but that one thing is a bigger thing than all the other things put together, which is why your grade was temporarily low. T and B were surprised to learn that the school cafeteria doesn’t stay open for breakfast after classes have started, and that Powers (and their teacher) might expect them to arrive a bit earlier if they wanted to buy breakfast. D was surprised that tuning out in class leads to not receiving credit for the assignments you don’t do, and One Ms. X was surprised that, when you wait till the last minute, after the code has expired, to join an Edmodo group, you can’t join it instantaneously. And, to be fair, I was surprised that they were surprised. And all those things happened this week.
Clashing expectations arise when you “don’t have time” to sit down with people and make sure everyone has a shared understanding. And the idea that you “don’t have time,” that there’s “too much to cover” or “too much to do,” is a symptom of something deeper. But what, exactly? Another Mr. Y is convinced that a mass exodus of experienced teachers is just around the corner, and he blames changes in society and pervasive disrespect. But I don’t think it’s quite that simple. A colleague came to me yesterday for advice about next steps in her journey – one of those veteran teachers seeking an exodus of her own, in Mr. Y’s terms – but for my colleague, it really just feels like time for a change.
Mr. Y and I might disagree about specific changes in society, but I don’t think anyone could disagree that we live in a period of vast, pervasive change. Where he sees pervasive disrespect, though, I see clashing expectations about what respect is, how to show it, who deserves it for what. Where Ms. X and Ms. X saw “parents who need to be parents” the other day, I think I see parents trying to figure out how to be parents in a world that’s totally different from the one where they (we!) grew up. Positional authority – the 20th-century kind that meant Powers That Be could just issue directives and didn’t need to “have time” to clarify – doesn’t mean as much as it did a few decades ago, and building personal authority requires a very different set of skills, mindsets, and approaches, whether you’re a parent facing a “bad, lazy kid” who wants to play video games all night, a teacher facing a “bad, lazy kid” who found those games more engaging than That Worksheet or That Textbook, or a Power facing a “bad, lazy teacher” who “didn’t understand” That Directive, That Policy, or That Thing that seemed so obvious you didn’t need to make a policy or a directive.
In a joyful learning community, there’s always time to clarify expectations … because you do so in the moment, when conflicts arise, and you see every conflict or misunderstanding as a learning opportunity rather than a waste of time. “I’m confused,” I sometimes tell the large Latin I class, “because you told me one thing with this set of actions, but another thing with that set of actions.” And over time, they realize that loud conversations about other things send a message, and that you can send a different message with a different set of actions. But Ms. X and Mr. Y “don’t have time” to clarify expectations, so they yell and label, fuss and fret, manage and control, and then wonder why those “bad, lazy kids” don’t display any self-direction!
I wonder what new insights await us all today.