Valentine’s Day, a dress-down fundraiser, and a school-wide field trip in three sessions – Ms. X, Mr. Y, and Ms. Z’s advisory groups, chaperoned by Mr. A, Ms. B, and Ms. C who were “planning” at the time. That’s a lot of unusual for a single day! And then the first group left later than expected, so first-period classes were extended a bit (and second-period classes correspondingly shortened). I ate lunch at an unusual time (another perk of that mid-day “planning” period) because I was hungry and tired, but that meant listening to much venting by One Ms. X, Another Ms. X, Young Ms. X, and Mr. Y about “awful” things from their field-trip session.
“Those kids!” complained One Ms. X. “They just stood there or walked around, and they didn’t even look at the exhibits!” I wondered how many had ever been to an art exhibit before, whether anyone had clarified expectations. But I didn’t want to interrupt the Ms. X brigade. “It was so disorganized,” Young Ms. X added, “and nobody knew what to do.” By then I had finished lunch, remembered the form on my desk, realized I’d rather not hear any more.
Due to a quirk of scheduling, almost everyone was there in the first-period Latin II class, while almost everyone was gone during second period. I had hoped to build on Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s successful rounds of Analytic Hand Signals with an “Analyze the Sentence” activity where we mark the different noun and verb forms … and that went well for those who were able to concentrate. So did the paired reading activity with the story of the fight between Sabina and Ferox, and so did the brand-new activity called quid vītae Rōmānae where you go back through a story, looking for specific evidence of Roman cultural products, practices, and perspectives. And so did the pre-planning for our “major assessment” next week, which will involve rewriting, expanding, and filming a familiar story.
A lot of us struggled to concentrate … including me. Apparently X and Y really are dating … or if they aren’t, they “just happened” to buy very large, very cute stuffed animals for each other. That distracted their friends. Several organizations were selling flowers, candy, and balloons, which meant a steady flow of deliveries – “Is V in class? I have a flower delivery!” That distracted everyone. If poor Ms. X or Mr. Y tried to do any “real teaching” – the kind with PowerPoints and lecture notes and a quiz tomorrow on what was “covered” – I’m sure yelling and labeling ensued swiftly. I was tempted myself when J, U, and B decided that “cluster around an Internet-capable device and follow this link” must, surely, mean “cluster around a device and watch random YouTube videos.” But J, U, and B refocused, and surely Ms. X and Mr. Y found a “cute activity to do” or at least a “good review worksheet for them” somewhere on the Internet.
When I went to see a colleague after school the other day, she was showing Ms. X how to find teaching resources on Pinterest as Ms. X observed in half-skeptical, half-fascinated disbelief. That Ms. X is a conscientious, hard-working teacher who would love something besides “just book work,” and I’ve watched make genuine efforts in that direction. But it’s hard, and it’s scary, and there’s a lot of “curriculum to cover,” and sometimes new things don’t work … or they work too well, bringing up questions not answered in the curriculum guide, or issues that terrify Ms. X. Scary, unfamiliar things make you long for the “safety” of publishers’ pre-made PowerPoints, “blackline masters,” single right answers.
Debbie’s Google+ response to yesterday’s post captured the tension perfectly:
Interruptions – the “X Factors”… Aren’t they those threads that run through the tapestry of life connecting all the tidbits together, connecting all the learning, growth and Wisdom together?
How can you learn about self-control if you don’t have the X factors? How can you expand your perspective (from around the Fire of Truth) if you don’t interact with the other perspectives, the other X Factors that require you to change your train of thought?
And yet we try to remove these from the environment, putting the blinders on students so that they can only hear, see, and think about the information that we want to share in that moment….
Why do we put blinders on ourselves and not see the opportunities for teaching self-control, for example, when the students are distracted? Why is it that we reach for the controlling strategies to force them to attend to our intentions rather than using the opportunity to develop their self-awareness and self-control through acknowledging the X-factors, helping them prioritize in the moment, helping them manage their thoughts and emotions and helping them become Wiser and more empowered individuals?
Why do we think that students’ X-factors are unimportant and trivial? If the X-factor is important enough to distract them and heighten their emotions then it is very important to them – and part of their journey.
…. By discussing the difficulties in putting X-factors aside in order to focus on another priority we learn about self-awareness, about problem-solving, about conflict-resolution, about self-respect, about respect for others, about empathy and compassion. We learn about what priorities are more important – which hopefully includes caring for others – and we learn about building joyful communities through listening, supporting, empathy, and empowering.
What can I do? I can be sensitive to others and their X-factors as well as my own. I can look for and respond to signs that someone is distracted by an X-factor and be ready to temporarily put my intentions aside in order to support them in some way, even if it is only to make eye contact in an empathetic manner.
What will we – I – do differently today if X-factors deserve attention? How will we balance the different important things in our lives, “the” curriculum, and students’ lives?