Like Monday, Tuesday began an hour earlier than I’d expected. At 3:45 a.m., I was wide awake, thinking about everything from the visiting Powers That Be to a sight-reading check story for my Latin II classes. I quickly realized I needed to get up, grab my laptop, and write that story. It didn’t take long, it relaxed me somehow, and by 4:30 I was asleep again … and I slept without interruption Tuesday night.
A younger me would have resisted longer, clung to the original plan of writing that story at 5:00, not 4:00 … or refused to go to bed Monday evening with the story unwritten. That Me was firmly anchored in the factory mindset, with the Martyred Teacher Complex addendum. Like Ms. X, he loved having So Much To Do; like Mr. Y, he dragged home bags and briefcases of “important” papers, then dragged them back to school unmarked. It was hard to let go of him … just as hard as it is for every Ms. X or Mr. Y to abandon ineffective, deadening, but familiar techniques and mindsets. Comfortable ones!
Hard … but not impossible. And since I could do it, I know there’s hope for everyone.
When I saw her at lunchtime Tuesday, Ms. X was annoyed. “How many times,” she wondered, “do I have to turn in copies of my syllabi for this semester?” She’d just received a “friendly reminder” email about that, though she’d already turned in multiple copies before the deadline. But she was surprisingly calm … and then something amazing happened: “I really don’t mind that much,” she said, “because I have to turn things in on time if I want my students to turn things in to me on time.” And then we had a great conversation, she and I, about walking the talk and modeling what we want from our students … and about why our students, having heard “Do as i say, not as I do” from many a Ms. X along the way, don’t necessarily trust. We even agreed it’s better for students to discover for themselves the effects of distractions than to get told by an authority figure.
If Ms. X and I can both change, there must be hope for everyone!
I wasn’t expecting a visit from any Powers That Be during Tuesday’s “vertical team walkthrough.” So I was pleasantly surprised when two Powers popped in, learned some Latin with us, stayed for 10 or 15 minutes. My students were surprised, too, but they quickly shifted into the “extra-good” mode that one adopts, half-unconsciously, in hierarchical organizations when Someone Important is watching. We had a productive time, and they even stayed productive after Mr. Power and Ms. Power left. “I would hope,” I told them, “that the Latin Family is always at the top of its game, whether anyone is watching us or not.”
And I would hope that, but if you’ve worked in a hierarchical organization, you know a visit from Powers That Be does concentrate the attention, clarify the focus, help U and J save their conversation for later. And yet the true test of character, as the old saying goes, is what you do when no one is watching – right?
We’d started the day with some excellent Minor Assessment #3 presentations, taken the diagnostic sight-reading check (with the passage fresh off the presses that I wrote early Tuesday morning), and started doing a large-group reading of this Tres Columnae Project story before the Powers arrived. While they were there, we read and discussed the story; when they left, we finished the last bit, then formed small groups to do background research on the important cultural elements in the story. There were three “for everyone” choices: Roman midwives, the bulla, and the custom of picking up – or not picking up – a newborn laid on the floor before its paterfamilias). Tthose who were “feeling especially brave” could explore Roman medicine and medical technology. Today, each group will try to find evidence of its cultural concept in this story, we’ll read this one together, and we’ll start mining this one for additional insights if there’s time.
Slowly, but surely, my students are starting to make the kinds of connections that, in my memory, their counterparts 15 or 20 years ago made easily. The Kenneth Bernstein piece I mentioned yesterday argues that such connections are rarer now because students aren’t taught to find them, that their connection-finding skills have atrophied because of high-stakes testing since early childhood. And that’s not untrue … but it’s not the whole story.
I decided to sneak a pre-assessment of literary terms into a sight-reading check I gave my Latin IV’s and AP’s on Tuesday, a released AP® multiple-choice passage that “just happens” to contain a question about litotes, anaphora, and chiasmus. It was a very informal self-assessment, and they were working in pairs, and I told them not to worry about that question … but after everyone had established the meaning of chiasmus, they all answered the question correctly. (No, it wasn’t a chiasmus, if you’re curious … and it wasn’t a synchesis, either. It was a very nice anaphora.) For the first time I can remember, all of my Latin IV students – juniors and seniors who’ve taken honors-level English classes for years – were able to remember what they’d learned in English and apply that to a Latin passage. I was astonished, grateful, amazed all at once.
And I wondered something.
We see – and decry – so much compartmentalization in factory-model students: “This is English class, so I can’t do math now, Ms. X!” But how much of it is an act, a response because their teachers act and feel compartmentalized and divided? How much is the ironic flip-side of that “extra-good” behavior they display for Powers That Be? As we live more authentic, undivided lives in our work with students, will we find them more authentc, more undivided, too? What will I – we – do today to help that happen?