A friend who reads, but rarely comments here, asked me the other day about Ms. X and Mr. Y. “Are they one person, or are they a composite? And are they the same person each time? And” – here’s the hard question – “are you judging them or somehow seeing yourself as superior to them?”
Short answers: No, they’re a composite; no, there are several of them; and no, because there’s a Ms. X or Mr. Y in all of us, especially me. Some days I’d love to have the quiet, orderly classroom that Ms. X and Mr. Y want; sometimes it’s tempting to go find a worksheet; sometimes it’s tempting to yell and label rather than wait, to take ownership rather than leave it in learners’ hands, to try to control both process and outcome. There are days, hours, moments when the Mr. Y in me (whom we named my “evil twin Ralph” several years ago) really wants to come out and take control.
For the most part, Tuesday was not one of those days.
The Latin II classes are starting the stories in Tres Columnae Lectiō XX, where Casina the ancilla (who, as we’ve learned, was sold into slavery as a young adult) has an unexpected trauma on a routine visit to the laundry and, all of a sudden, is overwhelmed by what we’d probably call post-traumatic stress disorder … but what would a Roman call it? And how would a kind and virtuous dominus like Valerius respond to such a condition in a servant? We’ve started discovering the four families of “little words” or prōnōmina that will be our grammatical focus for a while: the h set, the ill set, the ist set, and the ips set. We learned new Analytic Hand Signals for those, and we practiced them as we read two stories and, in pairs, made Latin versions of some sentences on … well, if I were Ms. X, it would have been a worksheet, and it was a handout with spaces for answers and an answer key, online, that students could refer to, and another document known as “Thinking Out Loud On Paper” that can help if you’re struggling with the whole process of analyzing and making Latin noun and verb forms. Unlike Ms. X, or poor Mr. Y yesterday, I’m less concerned with the right answers – or with students somehow independently deriving them – than with observing the process. And for the most part, the process went well. It went well in the afternoon, too, as the upper-level group practiced scansion, finished their Minor Assessment #1 production, and started working on various sets of readings about the Trojan War.
There were some tense moments, though, in that “problem” mid-morning class. When I handed out “official” progress reports to my first-period group, I was disturbed to see, on report after report, blank or missing information where grades and comments should have been. The “problem” class were understandably upset, and they were upset at Some Ms. X who had “messed up my grade” and Some Mr. Y who had “lost my work” and even Ms. Z who “doesn’t like me.” It was hard for them to focus on a story with narrative tension – so hard, at one point, that I asked them to think carefully about whether they won’t or can’t keep focus when things are hard for them. We’ll be returning to that question today, and I’m eager to see what they say about it. “I realize,” I said at one point, “that it’s hard because your other teachers generally don’t ask you to manage yourselves. They just tell you to be quiet, or tell you to do the work. But I think the gift of self-control and self-management is one of the most important things I can give you … and thirty years from now, I hope you’ll still remember and love Latin, but I know you’ll still need to manage and control yourself.”
That’s a message Ms. X and Mr. Y rarely send – and I don’t send it, either, in my Mr. Y moments!
Debbie, in her response to yesterday’s post, noticed something important that I’d missed:
So we have teachers who have excuses for not meeting deadlines and we have students who have excuses for not meeting deadlines…hmmm… What does that tell us about deadlines, human nature, and our society? Interesting that it is “good for the goose but not for the gander”.
And Laura raised another important point:
I sometimes try to imagine what it is like for the students, as they move from class to class, where the expectations, culture, everything can be completely different.
One of the hardest conversations for a faculty to have – one that I think my colleagues almost had a few weeks ago – is the one about culture, expectations, being on the same or similar metaphorical “page” in our understandings. In Rick DuFour’s terms, it’s the one about vision (what the school would look like in the future, as it truly lives out its mission) and values (the specific, behavioral commitments you make to move toward that vision). Ms. X would like to believe that “everybody’s the same” and “nobody’s that special,” so she’d like to believe that everybody already shares a vision (the one that “They” told “us” to have), and that “They” – the Powers That Be – can just “make” resistant people “do what they’re supposed to.” Mr. Y – who lives in me as surely as he lives in my colleagues – would like that, too, except if he’s the one getting “made” to do stuff. But when you’re building a community, joyful or otherwise, I don’t think it’s that easy. I think you have to have the hard conversations, listen and talk, be open to disagreements and conflicts. It won’t be “nice” all the time, will it?
What will I – we – do today to create spaces for those kinds of conversations?