Endings and Beginnings, IV

Thursday was long, short, tiring, energizing – a good last day, a good ending for 2012 in our small classroom community.  Like all last days, it wasn’t all that productive.  Many students were absent, having learned from experience that “you don’t do anything” the last day.  But we finished what we’d started on Wednesday, followed pre-holiday traditions, enjoyed each other’s company.  As I finish this post Friday morning, it feels like a good first day of vacation, a good start for the much-needed rest before 2013.  The sun is rising through mostly-bare trees, and it’s a chilly, windy, wintry day – good for writing and thinking, for conversations with friends, for a cup of something warm and a good book.

Ms. X and Mr. Y “had some teaching to do” on Thursday.  They were frustrated by the “bad, lazy, apathetic kids” and the low attendance.  Others had videos to show, holiday-themed worksheets, cute craft projects, time to fill.  Though less frustrated, they were annoyed by who came and who stayed home.  “The ones that should stay home never do,” another Ms. X used to complain, in what feels like another lifetime.  “They just come to eat lunch, see their friends, and get in trouble.”

Shared food, time with friends, doing things together – especially things The Authorities didn’t authorize.  That’s a pretty good definition of community – which is what “the ones” were seeking.  And it’s a pretty good summary of how That Ms. X and her friends spent their days.  That Ms. X “taught computers,” so her students had packets of exercises “to do and print out.”  That Ms. X would get things started, with lots of empty threats about doing your work  and no talking and keeping busy.   Then she’d stand in the hallway, outside her classroom door, chatting with colleagues who also “taught computers,” until one of “those administrators” walked down the hall.  That Ms. X loved lunch time, too.  She liked seeing friends, and she hated the extra lunch periods “those administrators” had added as the school grew.

Food, friends, shared experiences not authorized by The Authorities.  Community.  That’s how That Ms. X spent her days – but not how her students were to spend their days.  They were to sit down, shut up, and do the worksheet … and not bother That Ms. X and her friends.

And That Ms. X was concerned – terribly concerned – about “bad, lazy students skipping class.”  To be fair, there was a “skipping problem”  at that school, though it rarely affected my students.  We were busy building our  classroom community, doing meaningful things together, learning Latin deeply, connecting “us” and “the Romans.”  The occasional student skipped the occasional class, but That Ms. X’s “skipping epidemic” didn’t infect us.  “The ones” were in my classes, too, but they stayed because they found a learning community.  We didn’t do much eating, but we did have shared conversations that connected their experiences to that Roman stuff.  And I suppose real, authentic learning felt deliciously subversive to them.

“The ones” can be a challenge for teachers – they’re skeptical, easily discouraged, deeply hurt by impersonal factory-style teaching.  Unlike “sweet kids” who silently comply or “good students” who play the game of school, “the ones” cover their pain with anger and defiance.  But “the ones” are seeking community, and they’re delighted to find a learning community.  They don’t dare to expect it, don’t readily trust it  – but when they do find it, trust it, accept it, they embrace it with zest, passion, and joy.

Why is it hard for “the ones” to find, trust, and believe in learning community?  George had a suggestion on Wednesday:

On the “factory floor” where every minute counts, this looks like a problem. Community-building and its introspective cousin Reflection are supposed to be elsewhere and only Teaching and Learning are welcome. I’m not sure you can schedule them so tightly.

And Debbie asked

Why is it that we try to keep stuffing “education” into students’ heads when they are overwhelmed with emotions about other issues. Wouldn’t it be more effective to deal with what is on the students’ minds and get that out of the way so that they can focus on the activities and learning within the class? Wouldn’t it be better to give them some time to debrief, to refocus, to de-stress, or whatever it is they need to cope with whatever their priorities are so that they can be present in the moment?

And on Thursday, the conversation flowed around that distinction between collaboration and cooperation we’ve started to explore. It’s such a rich conversation that I hate to try to summarize it!  Take Debbie’s starting comment, though, and go from there:

“I’ll help you if you help me”  or “what’s in it for me” thinking, to me, is a disconnect from community. My question is how do we help students see that their contribution, their actions, contribute to the larger community whether they like it or not, intend it or not, or see or don’t see that they are getting something in return.

Sadly, we start teaching children at a young age to think about how something will benefit them….

Wouldn’t it be better if we taught our children to consider the benefits to others? To “do” as a contribution to community? To “give” for the feel-good effect?

“I” am not a community, disconnected from other communities. “I” am part of a larger community and another community and a larger community. “I” am part of the “we”. How can my “I” collaborate with or cooperate with or piggyback onto your “I” to make an even greater contribution to the bigger community?

in a world of sit down, shut up, and do the worksheet – of do your own work and don’t bother Ms. X and your bad, lazy, low-scoring kids better not affect my job – community-building is hard, but essential.  So where do we start?

Published in: on December 21, 2012 at 12:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

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