Finding Our Pace, IV

My Latin II students were busy reading and creating Latin questions about the third and fourth stories in Tres Columnae Lectiō XV when a colleague came in to see me.  He had a problem – he needed one of the school’s mobile laptop carts on Friday (when I had it reserved) instead of Thursday (when he had it), and he wondered if we could switch days. Since today is the day we’ll start working on our next story-creation projects, and since I had originally hoped to have the laptops today anyway, I was delighted to help him.

Just a few hours later, I had an entirely different reaction to an email from someone else.  It seems this is (supposed to be) a special-emphasis week about “staying in school,” so a mandated dropout-prevention video from The Powers That Be has to be shown.  “Yes,” she said, “it is the same one as last year,” as she announced the time.  It doesn’t affect me – no students then – but  the tone of the message (and the timing) left me briefly annoyed, frustrated, upset.   We have a special schedule, normally used on Wednesdays, that would have provided time to show the video … but we didn’t use it yesterday, much to students’ surprise.  Had the Powers really not sent out their email until “too late” to use that schedule?   Had Ms. C been “too busy” to think of … doing what we did last year?

But I could have asked Mr. N such questions, could have been just as annoyed at his request as I was at Ms. C’s declaration.  Was it just that he asked and she told?  Am I so far from factory-thinking these days that I viscerally reject mandates?

No, that’s not it.  Mandates and “requests” and “gentle reminders” from the Powers That Be arrive all the time, and they rarely bother me for more than a few moments.  If I viscerally rejected them, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the time I spent Wednesday afternoon working with my colleagues on the mandated “product” that represents our new understanding as the result of our (required) fall book study.  And I wouldn’t still be overwhelmed by the power of “I will” statements, rediscovered in that mandated set of training videos.

So what was the difference?  There were actually a lot of similarities.  Mr. N, or someone in his family, had a medical appointment come up unexpectedly; Ms. C doubtless got a last-minute email from some Power or other.  Both responded as best they could, seeking a workable solution.  In both cases, something would  happen differently the very next day.  Both probably would have upset factory-me, who learned to believe that weekly lesson plans (those sacred documents!) “should” be cast in stone … who heard that message in “general reminders,” broadcast emails, memos to all staff from former principals now safely retired and insulated from a world where Everything Has Changed.

Perhaps Ms. X would have responded with equal scorn to both requests – though, Ms. X  rarely uses those laptop carts.  But my response to the two was so different!  I was happy to help Mr. N out, resentful of Ms. C’s email even though it didn’t affect me all.


I think it speaks to the difference between factory and community.  Mr. N and I had talked about that a few days ago, and we discovered some unexpected common ground.  For one thing, he sees his work with students as an important calling, not just a way to pay the bills or make the day go by.  But Ms. C sees her job (which, to be fair, is an important one, and one that she does well) as a job to do.  Yes, she cares about students and colleagues; yes, she wants to do a good job; but in the end, it often seems she’s disconnected from her work in the way that factory-thinking encourages.  Mr. N has told me about conversations he’s had with colleagues in his discipline, asking them to rethink the ways they approach important parts of their curriculum; Ms. C does what “They” tell her, because that’s “what you’re supposed to do.”  He longs to make a real difference; she longs for retirement.  He asked, “Could you help me out?” while she said, in essence, “This is what I have to do, so this is what you have to do.”

He asked for assistance; she assumed compliance.  Was that the fundamental difference?

Responding to yesterday’s post on Google+, Debbie had some profoundly relevant thoughts:

it’s interesting: our goal, hopefully, is to teach the next generation how to think, how to solve problems, how to make good choices — and yet “we” tend to focus on memorizing, compliance, and achievement. We solve the problems for them with new rules, we make the choices for them, and we expect them to just do what we decide is best for them.
Reading your blog, we should be teaching students how to make conscious choices, how to critique and analyze information and events so that they don’t have to fret about sales pitches.

In a big organization, one that’s still recovering from the 20th-century mindset, some things will be mandatory.  But when the book, the videos, and the other less-annoying mandates were presented, I still felt a degree of autonomy (about when and where) and the purpose of the tasks was clear – at least two of Daniel Pink’s Big Three elements of intrinsic motivation..  Requests like Mr. N’s, by their nature, allow space for all three: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  What will I do today to help my students have more of all three, even when they’re faced with mandatory tasks?

Published in: on January 31, 2013 at 11:34 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] on Google+ to yesterday’s post, Debbie […]

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