It’s so easy for community to fade away, for polarization and stagnation to reappear, when no one has ownership of maintaining it. The factory mindset of “not my job” is powerful. But without maintenance, fragile beginnings fade away into endings.
Young Ms. X and Old Ms. X were back in form by Tuesday morning. They were fussing about a “bad, lazy” student whose “unbelievable” family had dared to go out of town this week. If I remember correctly, Military Dad had just returned from a deployment … but never mind that. “Those kids ought to be in school, and those parents should have gone to Disney World without them. That’s what my mom would have done,” said Young Ms. X, as Old Ms. X nodded sagely.
Of course, Young Ms. X and Old Ms. X had also been complaining about how “you can’t do anything” the week before Winter Break because the students who are in school are so “bad and lazy” then. And a large plurality of students in my “problem” class come directly from Old Ms. X, while most others come from Another Ms. X or Mr. Y.
So I said … nothing. I collected things from my school mailbox and left quietly. I’m not sure I even said “good morning.”
To be fair, I was thinking about my own blood pressure – and about students who would need a calm, level presence, a sustainer of our small classroom community. I tried to put the yelling and labeling – and the unconscious hypocrisy – out of my mind. And I tried not to think about how Old Ms. X and Young Ms. X would treat their students, or about the ripple effects from dozens of angry, upset students subjected to their tirades.
Before school started, I heard someone yell “Sit down and shut up!” from down the hall. Was a Ms. X, a Mr. Y, or an angry student? I tried to ignore it, to focus on our small classroom community. And that worked … for two-thirds of the day.
Unsurprisingly, though, the “problem” class was difficult. Both other classes were quiet, peaceful, generally productive, unaffected by Ms. X or Mr. Y. But most of those mid-morning Latin I students came straight from a daily dose of yelling and labeling. They were full of nervous, barely-controlled energy; they desperately needed to move, to process, to interact with each other. I can’t imagine what Ms. X had said to them – or I don’t want to imagine – but the effects were painful to see.
While half-trying (to their credit!) to stay focused on our day’s tasks, my students seemed to be trying to live down to the bad, lazy label … and the immature one too. Eventually poor Ms. H, on the floor below, called to check on us. “Please tell them,” she said, “that the football game is over!” And I did … her exact words. No yelling, no labeling, despite the temptation. “I’m really not sure how to respond,” I said. “Why is it so hard to manage ourselves today?”
I knew why … but I wanted them to think about it, to see the connections. To begin to rise above the yelled labels, to take ownership – and control – of their reactions.
“We’re sorry,” they said, too late. “Should we go down and apologize?”
No, I said, I don’t think that would help. Ms. H already has a headache; the damage is done.
“We could write her an apology letter,” they suggested. “Would that help?”
Probably not, I said – but she’d appreciate it. And she did when I told her, later in the day. But all the apologies in the world can’t make a headache go away … or change an impression you’ve sent, unintentionally, with actions that speak louder than words ever could. The kind of impression they’d sent … and the kind they’d received from Ms. X’s angry body language, furious tone, and actions that spoke even louder than her yelling, labeling words.
We tend to forget that learning is not always about discovering how to do something the best way. In many situations it is the only way to learn how not to do something….
And Debbie pondered,
It is interesting that I was going to write a blog today about the importance of building a “conversation time” into the beginning of the day (or class) and then that is one of the points mentioned in the video.
What is it we do when we get together with friends for some activity? We network first, we chat, laugh, get caught up on “what’s new” and perhaps reminisce about some past event. .. and then we get down to business about the reason we are together on that day.
To have that “joyful community” we need, I think, be also including this network time, conversation time, for the students and teachers to reconnect, reform their community relationships and to transition from what happened before to what the task at hand will be in the next little bit.
And Brendan added,
Part of the challenge is creating not only conversation time, but helping people to have more meaningful conversations by reflecting on what they believe and why. When people’s minds are full of “bad and lazy” characterizations of human nature, simply spending time talking can only go so far….
It’s hard to create a joyful community out of people who believe life itself is a hostile, hopeless, miserable place. In my experience, those views are far too common in people, and change is hard….
Sometimes, when I look at my poor, stressed-out students and my “hostile, hopeless, miserable” colleagues, I despair. How can we possibly build joyful community amidst all the stress, hostility, despair, and misery? On the other hand, how can we refuse to try?