Between Old and New, II

Thursday was another day of old and new things for me.  It was the first day of the second half of first-semester courses in my face-to-face teaching world, a time when my old pattern was to have students reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, set goals for themselves, catch a breath before diving into new things.  We did that, to a degree, but my students – especially the first class of the day, normally calm and pleasant – were oddly stirred up and agitated.  The school had decided to try something new: a “mock election,” which led to an altered schedule in the morning and a whole lot of heated political arguments.  I’m sure my colleagues in the Social Studies Department meant well, but the day felt disorganized, rushed, and unpleasant at the start.

And that rubbed off on my students, who were uncharacteristically loud and unpleasant.  Was I feeling rushed?  Was I, consciously or not, rushing them through a process?  “I need for us to focus,” I said at the beginning of the day, “because of the altered schedule, and because I’ll be gone at that meeting tomorrow.  I want to make sure we all feel comfortable with the one new thing today.”

“What meeting?” they asked.  “Why is the schedule different?”  Being out of school on Wednesday had thrown off the rhythm of the week, left them uncomfortable, forgetful, out of their comfort zone.

“I just love,” said N and N, “saying the Pledge of Allegiance every day because I love my country.”  You’d have to hear the tone – and see the faces of B and C, who for religious reasons can’t participate in the Pledge – to understand how deliberately hurtful and cruel N and N were being.  “Who are you going to vote for in the school election thing?”

As you faithful readers know, I don’t like the authoritarian teacher role.  But I did stop that conversation in its tracks – tell them of someone I knew, a deeply patriotic friend, who deliberately didn’t participate in that ceremony “because the great thing about America is that you don’t have to.”  And we talked about the importance of the secret ballot, too, and compared that freedom with the Soviet Union’s compulsory voting on the one hand, with Roman practices on the other.

The day ended fairly well … comfort with this Tres Columnae Project story, comfort with the “new thing” of first- and second-person plural verbs, growing comfort with asking and answering Latin questions about a reading passage.

Comfort … and discomfort.

Authority … in service of community.

Was it a good day, a bad day, a mixed day?  Was it a plateau?

Responding to yesterday’s post on Google+, Debbie asked

Re: the plateau …  What is the story of the plateau? Is it that we are in the midst of experiencing, practicing, and mastering some concept or ability? Are we in the “performing stage” of learning or of community?

Or perhaps the story is that we are reaching the point of change, having become efficient at the current level, and we can see that the next step needs to be introduced, that it is time for a new challenge which means reintroducing some chaos. Perhaps we are on the plateau to gather our energy and our focus to take that step into the unknown, to shake things up and leave the “performing stage” behind for a while.

Knowing the story, understanding what the plateau is and why we are on it helps us to plan where we go from here as well as celebrate the current achievements.

Wise words on a day when joyful learning community seemed to be under siege from all sides, from within and without.  Was it really under siege, or were the stresses and strains a necessary part of growth?

As I drove all afternoon to meet one fellow CAMWS-SS panelist at the Jacksonville airport, then drove the relatively short remaining distance to Tallahassee, I kept thinking about community, about story, about plateaus.  I had a wonderful phone conversation with a new friend working on a community-centered school; I checked in with friends; I sang along with the radio; I enjoyed some peaceful silence.  I stopped, read the Google+ conversations, was overwhelmed by the community that’s formed around this shared vision.

How do we encourage ourselves, encourage each other, to keep moving when we hit those plateaus?  How do we balance the need for solitude with the need for community?  How do recognize signs of stress and address them in a way that restores joyful community?  And how do we  – how can we – do all that in a corner of the factory?

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Published in: on November 2, 2012 at 11:34 am  Leave a Comment  

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