Right … for Now, V

It’s been years since I had a “planning” period at lunch time, but I do this semester.  These days, that means 30 minutes a day of “lunch duty” supervision, every other week.  It’s hardly onerous – there’s a chair just outside the cafeteria door, and one’s task is to sit there, chatting with students (and the occasional faculty member) as they come out of the cafeteria, making sure that nothing untoward happens in the hallway there.  In a small, old school building, with classes in session at both ends of the cafeteria’s hall, it’s easy for lunch-bound students (and teachers) to forget about those classes, start loud conversations, unwittingly disturb Mr. O or Ms. N or Ms. L.  It helps to have a calming (and occasionally quieting) adult presence out there.

When our former principal instituted the practice years ago, Ms. X and Mr. Y were incensed … incensed!  How dare anyone infringe on their ever-so-valuable time? they thundered.  Teachers who aren’t free at lunch time have other supervision-type assignments before and after school, but that didn’t matter to Ms. X and Mr. Y.  They “needed” that time, they insisted … and month after month, they endlessly brought slightly different complaints to the school’s governance committee.  Perhaps – in stark contrast with what I’ve seen from them as a rule – Ms. X and Mr. Y really did spend every second of “planning” period planning lessons, making copies, grading papers.  Or maybe they needed the time to recover their strength after constant battles with those they label as “bad, lazy, unmotivated” students, “clueless, out-of-touch” administrators, and “thoughtless, indulgent, over-protective” parents.  I tried hard not to turn the labels on the labelers!

Over time the thundering subsided into grumbling and whining, with some occasional moaning and wheedling thrown in for good measure.  Had Ms. X or Mr. Y received such responses from a student, no doubt a whirlwind of yelling, labeling, and pain-punishment cycles would have ensued.

Grumbling and thundering aren’t my style, and I’m not a fan of whining, moaning, or wheedling … but I confess I was a bit peevish on my first “lunch duty” day.  For many years, I’d cheerfully embraced “outside afternoon duty,” which involves monitoring students, chatting with them on occasion, pitching in to direct traffic sometimes.  Did I crave the afternoon sunshine and the potential exercise?  Did I just want to hang on to what had “always” been?

I’m not sure … but I’ve come to enjoy the new role deeply.  I get to see my students – and former students, and “Latin Family” hangers-on who never quite managed to fit the class in – in a different environment, and I have the privilege of watching them interact with each other, in something that looks like a joyful community much of the time.  I’ve learned that K, who took Latin I at his former school, shares my “obsession” (his term) with brushing his teeth after meals, and that T is even more of a flirt than I realized.  I never knew that B and N were friends, but they sit together every day … and is that why B came to me Thursday to ask how he can improve?  I knew that M and Other N were in the same circle, but I’ve learned  how silly – yet profound –  their lunch conversations are.  And I’m touched each day when E, who struggled and struggled with Latin, greets me with a smile and a cheerful “salvē!”

You can’t build a joyful learning community without community … and community-building can happen anywhere.  Even in a hallway outside a school cafeteria.  Even when you don’t realize it’s happening.

U and B, the girls who love to read, had misunderstood part of the first Minor Assessment project, and they were sad when they saw their progress reports Wednesday.  “What do we need to do?”  they asked. I re-explained and showed them, and they made a perfectly acceptable product.  That’s not unusual.  But when I gave them new reports on Thursday, they suddenly wanted to talk about struggles with other languages, plans to graduate early, the things Ms. X had said about that – all sorts of things!  We had a deeper conversation in 5 minutes Thursday than in their entire time in Latin I … and I’m still not sure why they decided to trust me that way.  They were incensed at Other Ms. X, in whose class they’d “made good grades every single grading period,” then spectacularly failed the final exam.  We talked about grades, what grades ought to measure, how their Latin grades were correlated with their language proficiency.

U and B have spent so much time in the factory-mindset that the idea of proficiency, rather than task compliance, is hard to grasp. “We did our work” for Ms. X, they said, “so why didn’t we get good grades?”

Re-reading Debbie’s recent comment on Google+, I had a new insight into their frustration:

Oh yes. We “do” things for so many reasons – and often it isn’t because it is the right thing to do, but because of a need for approval, validation, praise or avoidance of pain/fear.
We start this training early in a child’s life: pick up your toys every day and you will get this treat/reward (oh that lovely chart system). Speaking of the charts, I have used them – they are a great tool to help a child get organized, stay focused, and be responsible. Rather than using the term “reward” I use “celebrate”. Reward, to me, seems very external – someone else deciding that a behaviour is good enough. “Celebrate”, from my point of view, is more internal — the child celebrates the accomplishment.

joyful learning community celebrates accomplishments;teaching factory celebrates compliance.  You get more of what you celebrate.  Everything we teachers do will either build community, maintain it, or (if we aren’t careful) diminish or destroy it.  What will I do differently today in the light of that profound reality?

Published in: on February 8, 2013 at 11:25 am  Leave a Comment  

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