After all the concern, all the fear about What Might Happen, how upset Students Might Be the school day after Newtown, Monday was a remarkably normal day. It was chilly and rainy – colder inside than outside, in fact, as many people remarked during a fire drill that afternoon. More students were absent than usual – but of course it was the last Monday before Winter Break, and there’s an ugly flu bug going around, and some families have left town early to visit distant relatives. And I know that N had sinus surgery scheduled, and D and B rarely come to school on Mondays.
An oddly ordinary day, much like how Paula White describes her day in her recent blog post. A day of endings and beginnings.
In my face-to-face teaching world, the fall semester ends in mid-January, so December is a time of endings and beginnings anyway. Performing arts groups give their holiday performances; art classes prepare their final exhibitions; Ms. X looks at the calendar and is horrified by “so much to cover” in the few remaining days. This last week before a much-needed Winter Break is a strange, awkward, in-between time anyway. Report cards for our third reporting period went home Friday, a week into the new marking period, as they always do. And since the fourth reporting period will be half-completed right before Winter Break, students will get progress reports on Thursday, less than a week later.
A time of endings and beginnings, of review sessions and plans for new courses, of rewriting final exams for old courses and syllabi for new ones. The turn of the academic year. A time when some forms of community are easy, and others are really difficult.
Holiday-party community is easy – especially if you like parties, and I do. Monday afternoon was filled with good food (“best batch ever” of my little finger sandwiches, according to several colleagues), a thoughtful “present from the school,” and good conversation. I enjoy watching the Dirty Santa game, though I haven’t brought a gift-to-participate in years, and even Ms. X and Mr. Y seemed to enjoy it more than usual.
Authentic community is harder – but I saw hopeful signs all day. My “difficult” class had trouble getting started, and their first task, to form pairs and create a Latin sentence or two “about anything,” was deliberately open-ended. “I understand why it’s difficult,” I said, “but I’m still disappointed that we haven’t accomplished much yet.” We refocused on the purpose – of creating things for each other, sharing with each other, getting feedback from each other. And within a few minutes, they had focused on the task and created some good responses about … almost anything you can imagine.
Community is hard, especially when “What’s in it for me?” is the order of the day. I found that link through George’s Google+ share to a virtual community. And when I read this, and watched the video that inspired it, my heart ached for the lack of community, for the crazy-making factory that had batch-processed an excellent teacher right out of itself.
Watch the video even if you don’t have time to follow the link. And think about joy, hope, learning, and community.
How can we not only build, but sustain joyful community in difficult times? How to respond if Faceless Authority Figures, like the one Mr. Round mentions, are more interested in keeping the assembly line going? What should you do if doing what you’re told and building a community can’t both happen?
And when community forms, as it’s forming this week, in the aftermath of disaster and pain, how can we keep it going when the same-old same-old feeling returns?