After my long, eventful Saturday came a productive, peaceful, successful Sunday … but by 8:00 I was too tired to complete the one essential task of typing lesson plans for the week ahead. I normally do that Friday afternoon, making sure that any handouts needed Monday are ready to go. It’s a routine I’ve come to value deeply – but like all routines, I want it to be my servant, not my master. So, when I found myself too tired to think last Friday, I deferred the plans to another time and headed home for a nap.
That other time, I thought, would be Friday evening. My student B, who works at a local frozen-yogurt store, had told me I “had to” come and get some yogurt there on Friday … and the thought of peacefully writing plans over a cup of yogurt and fruit was appealing. But Friday evening wasn’t the right time for yogurt or for planning. Saturday was taken up with the adventure I described in yesterday’s post … and Sunday was filled with other good things. I knew what we’d be doing this week, but I had neither the time nor the energy to put my thoughts in print.
So I woke up early – earlier, even, than I’d planned – Monday morning, sat down with laptop and relevant documents, and quickly found myself in a “planning zone.” The Latin II classes would start Monday with a Vocabulary Self-Check, then work to finish their “Minor Assessment” story-creation project. For groups that finished early, there were two options – a vocabulary curation task, inspecting recent stories for words they felt they should know but didn’t, or a reading-practice task, focusing on the Tres Columnae Project’s animal characters as we focus on them for a while. The Latin IV and AP groups would do a “Collaborative Scansion Check,” an activity they’ve come to love, and then work on their next “Minor Assessment,” which involves selecting and illustrating the key events in their recent reading. The IV’s, who have been reading prose selection from Hyginus, will then try to transform a favorite brief passage into hexameter verse, while the AP’s will choose favorite selections from Vergil and rewrite them in Caesarian prose.
My early-morning “planning zone” had great results on Monday! The II’s struggled a bit with the implications of their tasks, and with Monday in general, but slowly transformed from a set of happy individuals into something like a joyful learning community. The IV’s made progress, too – more progress than they sometimes do, since they’re so terribly used to “making good grades” without effort in other classes. And the AP’s had breakthrough after breakthrough in their comprehension of the Aeneid, and insight after insight about things unnoticed by classes in other years.
The meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon was unusually short, too, and there was even time for that long-delayed cup of yogurt, a quick errand or two, and dinner with friends after our book group. A day of joyful community and unexpected discoveries, of small serendipities and unexpected synergies. Planning made it possible, but like my planning routine, the plans were the servants, not the masters.
I suppose factory-model schools enshrine planning because detailed, written plans are the essential feature of 20th-century, factory-model organizations. Sometimes they’re even called master plans! The Soviet Union had them; vast, paternalistic corporations had them; schools write (and carefully file away) all kinds of plans; and teachers write (and carefully file away and turn in) lesson plans in various formats. There’s nothing wrong with planning, or with trying to follow plans, either. But when the plan – the category, the classification, what’s on page 73, in paragraph 8 near the bottom – becomes more important than the person, something is terribly wrong. In far too many factory-model schools, the plan is enshrined, enthroned, far above the needs and concerns of the people it affects
Ms. X came early to school Monday, too, and we talked for a moment about how different students are “this year” from “in the past.” Ms. X and I have such conversation every year, of course, but she had a different observation this time, one that echoes the piece by retired high-school teacher Kenneth Bernstein that’s been making the rounds on Google+. “I feel sorry for them,” she said, “because all they know how to do is sit there, helplessly, and take multiple-choice tests. What’s going to happen to them in the real world – or in college? I tell them how poorly they’ll probably do, and how remedial classes are a waste of money, and how they’re mostly online and they won’t even be able to talk to an instructor – and they look at me and ask, Ms. X, are you telling the truth?”
For once, no bad and lazy labels, no self-justification … just real concern for her students and their future. What happened, I wonder? And will it continue?
Responding to yesterday’s post on Google+, Debbie made a profound point about struggles and challenges:
“We” tend to think of struggles as uncomfortable — outside the comfort zone, but how sad is that! To become Wiser, to move along our journeys, we need to be grateful for the challenges and invite them im. They should be an accepted, respected, and welcomed part of our comfort zones.
Yesterday in my workshop I talked about the importance of a mental shift from seeing a “behaviour problem” to seeing an opportunity to develop a new skill, to release an old wound/ baggage. When we can make that shift re: challenges and see them as opportunities for growth rather than something negative, we open the doors to something bigger and better than what we currently have.
Like it or not, changes happen – plans change even when they’re neatly typed, turned in, properly filed, on display for “classroom visitors” like today’s Powers That Be. What will we do today to embrace changes, to see opportunities and act on them?