Rest for the Weary? III

It rained again on Tuesday … another chilly winter rain.  Monday had been a holiday for students, a meeting-filled day for their teachers.  Sometimes you can feel the emotional tone of a day as it begins … and as my first-period students began to arrive Tuesday morning,  I knew I’d need to address the tone directly.

At the front of my classroom, on the right side as you’re facing the board, hangs a poster which says that “The Latin Family tries to be prompt, prepared, responsible, and respectful, and we help each other achieve our goals.”  On the left, as a rule, there’s another, though it’s temporarily down for maintenance; it says that we “aspire to be a Joyful Learning Community building something meaningful together.”  In Rick DuFour’s terms, the “joyful learning community” is our vision for the future, and the “Praecepta et Regulae” (so called since its first version in 1992) is our mission, the commitments we’ve made to bring that vision to reality.  If we followed the DuFour model completely, we’d also develop a statement of specific, behavioral things we’ll do to carry out the mission (a “Values Statement”), and specific, measurable Goals by which to chart our progress.  The faculty recently completed a book study of one of DuFour’s books; those projects we presented Monday were, theoretically, to represent “where we are as a school” in terms of 10 important criteria from there.

In DuFour’s terms, we had a disconnect Tuesday morning between vision and values or behaviors.  With a few exceptions, my students really want to be a joyful learning community, and they want to build meaningful things together … but it was hard to be prompt, prepared, responsible, respectful, and helpful in the moment.  Someone was talking loudly about something else; several groups “hadn’t noticed” the first assignment; others had picked up the vocabulary self-check assignment to give the appearance of working on it.

It didn’t take long for us to re-focus – just a few minutes in the first-period class, maybe 5 with the second-period group, a few reminders with the upper-level, afternoon group.  But it took a lot of emotional energy – mostly because I “had to” (chose to?) take on the role of community guardian, point out that heedless and thoughtless actions threaten community just as much as deliberate actions do.  That’s hard for J, U, and E to understand, especially when Ms. X just yells about “bad and lazy” and “so much to cover” and “get busy right now.”  And “you’re going to fail,” and “stop making me look bad,” and “Do you want me to give you a pop quiz right now?  Do you?!!!”

The school recently purchased a beautiful new poster-making printer, but I haven’t had time or inclination to make pretty, colorful versions of those posters yet; the message is more important than the format.  But Ms. X proudly told me the other day that she’d been “wearing it out” making new posters – and, indeed, when I stopped by her room on Monday, they were all over the place.  “RULES FOR THIS CLASSROOM” shouted one, with a fancy border, colorful fonts, and … I lost count of the number of “Do this” and “Don’t do that” statements, but Ms. X said she’d already come up with several more to add next year.  Others, giant tables or possibly spreadsheets, proudly displayed “the” curriculum, each lengthy curricular goal prefaced with the words “I can.”  That way, they’d serve as the requisite “I can” statements if any Powers That Be dropped in.

We’ve been starting to think about the virtūtēs Rōmānae in the Latin II classes; the story we read on Friday alludes to several, and we (theoretically) completed an assignment about the meanings and implications of pietās, dignitās, gravitās, iūstitia, clēmentia, and virtūs.  Since there was still a large, untouched stack of those, we took some more time with the virtūtēs, then read and discussed two simple, short little stories in which characters do – or don’t – serve as exempla.  Clients, angry at their patrōnus for the low-quality sportulae they’ve received, burst in and angrily confront him.  Little Cnaeus, remembering what happened to him on the first day of school, gets out of bed promptly on the second day.  We talked about how, for Romans, external behavior seems to have mattered more than internal motives – and we talked about the importance of understanding cultural perspectives, like the virtūtēs, as well as products and practices.  And then we started work on our Major Assessment, which involves transforming a set of stories into a film; adding a new, improved ending; and analyzing the cultural products, practices, and perspectives our films incorporate.

Thinking about Ms. X and her posters over a fundraising dinner at a local restaurant, I suddenly noticed the common thread that linked my tired, unfocused students with our posters and Ms. X’s posters.  The factory mindset is very different from that of a Roman paterfamiliās, but both happily settle for surface compliance if they can’t get real, meaningful buy-in.  Surface compliance “works,” too, at least in the short run; for the Romans, it “worked” quite effectively for centuries.  But when conditions change rapidly, you need more than surface compliance – and this is a time of rapid change.

Responding to yesterday’s post on Google+, Debbie put it succinctly:

“there was a cluster of helpless-looking teachers sitting, waiting, hoping the whole day had somehow been cancelled”
And we wonder how we get lazy students?

Teach by example — if we want our students to be polite, respectful, responsible, and engaged then we need to be role-modelling that. We need to live it, breathe it, act it, speak it…

In a world where surface compliance is enshrined, how will I help students – and colleagues – focus on the heart, on living and breathing and acting and speaking?  Is that how we build and sustain joyful communities in the toughest of times?

Published in: on February 20, 2013 at 11:20 am  Leave a Comment  

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