It’s All Connected, II

Monday was a long, strange day.  I got some sad family news over the weekend, and there were calls I needed to make, an email I needed to send.  And it was the first day back at school after our five-day Thanksgiving Break – and my week to provide lunch-stuff for the little lunch group my colleague and I have formed.  I was glad to wake up a bit early, glad to have time to buy the lunch items, glad to arrive at school earlier than usual.  “I’ll just print out a couple of things,” I thought, “and head up to my classroom.  I hope I don’t see Ms. X this morning.”

But, of course, one Ms. X was there at one copier, another Ms. X at the other one.  A third came in just as I was leaving.  The first two were sighing and complaining and labeling at 6:45 in the morning.  “They are just so lazy!” said Ms. X, “and it’s the same ones every day.  They’re late to class, they don’t do their work, and they don’t turn things in.  Don’t we have In-School Suspension and Detention anymore?”

This Ms. X is a veteran teacher.  She’s had plenty of experience, countless opportunities to notice (you’d think!) that the pain-punishment cycle doesn’t prevent tardiness to class, doesn’t motivate “turning things in.”  Maybe she hasn’t noticed; maybe she doesn’t want to.   Maybe sighing, complaining, and labeling are easier than looking at the big picture, acknowledging that everything is connected, trying to make a real change.  Maybe it’s easier for Ms. X to keep doing the same old thing and expecting different results.

Go and read the rich conversation about connections and change on this Google+ thread.  I’m so grateful for my thoughtful PLN!

But meanwhile, had I mentioned that most – almost all – of my second- and third-period students start their day with a Ms. X or Mr. Y?

I can usually feel the difference in emotional energy between them and the students who start their day with me.  But it was especially obvious on Monday.  The later classes were on edge, full of nervous, uncontrolled energy.  If you look at “the numbers” and “the data,” those later class should be more self-disciplined and focused.  But they aren’t.  Starting the day with Ms. X  or Mr. Y sets a sour, negative emotional tone.  And that makes it hard for them to navigate the boundaries of freedom within community, to grasp that their immediate impulses might have ill effects on someone else.  After 90 minutes of Ms. X’s yelling, labeling, and controlling, it’s hard to remember that everything is connected, to realize my off-task conversation with my friend affected both of us, but also distracted poor K and M, who sit nearby.

Ms. X just yells and tries to make them stop, or she ignores because there’s “too much to cover.”

In the book I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Sal Khan talks about the fragmentation of curricula – the ways that factory-model schooling divides subject from subject, then cuts up each subject into disconnected units, then allows students to progress from unit to unit, subject to subject, without real mastery or a sense of the connections.  In planning classes, I aim for flow and progression – but that’s really uncommon in my students’ experience.  I take a moment to explain the flow – and O and U and D and C impulsively start talking about something else.   The story we read prepares for the stories they write – but W, K, and N quietly tune out.  They’re learning – slowly, but surely – that things are different in the “Latin Family,” but it’s hard to lay aside the old, familiar patterns Ms. X reinforces.  It’s easier to keep on doing the same old thing – tuning out and coasting, the flip-side of Ms. X’s sighing and complaining – while hoping for different results.

“I’m sorry,” said D at one point, when I stopped to talk to him.  “I got in trouble in my first-period class.”  O and U and C said they were sorry, too.  “We just haven’t seen each other in a while.”  Factory-model schools don’t really build responsibility or self-control, mainly because they’redesigned to treat one input, one production-worker or raw-material student, pretty much the same as another.   Over and over, year after year, students do the same old thing.  Often they realize – better than Ms. X – that they’re unlikely to get different results.

Fifteen minutes before the end of my last class, the classroom phone rang.  Another Ms. X, with another request.  “Are you busy?   Could you give a makeup test to one of my students today?” she asked.  He’d been absent a week ago, when the test was given.  “Hurry up and finish it,” she told him, “because you still need to make up all the work from today when you’re done.”

Naturally he took the whole class period on those 52 (or was it 38?) multiple-choice, recall-level questions.  This Ms. X, to her credit, has been trying to have students “figure stuff out” and do real-world tasks. But she’s constrained by “the curriculum” – and the standardized test at the end, the test-bank software, and her own expectations of what a class should be.  She’s made some changes  – but they’re the kinds of changes that factory-model schools make.  A new curriculum!  A new teaching method!  A new “discipline plan” for the “bad, lazy” students … with new “incentives” for the “good” ones!  Over and over again, factory-model schools make the same old changes.  Maybe the whole structure is designed around doing the same old thing and expecting different results.

What’s the right question to ask after a day like Monday?  Is it a question about building joyful learning communities?  Or one about making changes?  Is it about expectations and results, or about self-fulfilling prophecies?  About changing the factory or leaving it behind?

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Published in: on November 27, 2012 at 11:21 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] off the delicate balance.  And if anyone is upset about something outside the classroom (like D, who’d gotten in trouble before his Latin class on Monday), it’s hard for that not to affect what happens in the […]

  2. […] and there was a lunar eclipse.  But is that why “they” were “wild” on Monday and Tuesday?  Or did the current Ms. X and Mr. Y, subscribing to a lunar theory, greet their […]

  3. […] Monday and Tuesday, when so many students were disengaged and upset, those actions and attitudes were […]


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