Making the Grade, II

In addition to everything else I mentioned yesterday, it’s Teacher Appreciation Week.  To celebrate, there were ham, sausage, and chicken biscuits – and coffee – Monday morning, plus special treats the other days.  All are on the school calendar, too, and there was a reminder email Friday afternoon.  But Ms. X came in to make copies, stared at the food, and half-smirked “I forgot all about this.”  She left without a biscuit, too.

I could tell she felt appreciated … or something.  So did The Other Ms. X, who was busy complaining about AP Exams.  “Those children,” she said, “do not need to be taking so many of those AP exams!  They’re taking way too many, and they need to be in class with me!”

Later on there was an announcement encouraging students to express appreciation to their teachers.  Did that help Either Ms. X’s mood?  And then there was another “reminder” email.  It said that (of course) we all want students to do well on end-of-year tests, which requires that they focus on their work in class.  I don’t think the writer intended to express such a profound factory-truth!  But the measure (good test scores) had clearly become the goal, and the process (students doing each particular assignment Because We Said So) was a goal in itself.

Maybe that helped Ms. X and Mr. Y feel appreciated.  Personally, I feel appreciated as a teacher when my students are becoming independent, responsible learners who don’t need me to stand over them with factory-style “management” or “motivation.”

So I felt appreciated in the early-morning Latin II class.  They worked hard on their video projects and, in a few cases, on the “purely individual option” I offered for those who hate large-scale, interdependent, creative tasks.  They’ve all shown me that they can collaborate and cooperate when they truly need to.

But I wasn’t sure how the mid-morning class would respond to the “Major Assessment Checklist” I’d prepared for them.  Initial signals were a bit discouraging, as D came in and playfully grabbed K by the neck like a very immature eight-year-old.  In a sudden moment of insight, I thought of a new application for an old technique.  “D,” I said, “that kind of behavior is not part of who we are in the Latin Family.  So I’d like for you to please go back out, get control of yourself, and come back  in a way that is appropriate for the Latin Family.”

He stared at me in disbelief.  No one ever expects D to behave appropriately!  So he doesn’t.  Everyone expects him to misbehave and cause trouble … so he does.  After a few moments, D walked out into the hall, and I followed him.  “Thank you,” I said, and I explained that I wasn’t intending to punish him.  But when he brings Those Kinds of Things into the room with him, it has a cascading effect.  D took off his hat (which he knows he’s not supposed to wear inside) and walked  purposefully – and maturely – into the room.

And I did feel appreciated.  And valued.

After a few minutes’ work, with many Checklist papers still blank. I explained the purpose behind the checklist.  “Oh,” T started to say, “be quiet, everybody; it’s Monday, and Mr. S is in a bad mood.”  No, I explained, I wasn’t in a bad mood – but I was disappointed and concerned about Friday.  “It would be one thing,” I said, “if you’d shown me that you have the collaboration skills you need, but prefer to work alone.”  That’s why the early morning class had a “purely individual option” for their Major Assessment.  “But I haven’t seen any evidence that you have – or are willing to use – collaboration skills.  Some of us seem to think we can either work, but not be together, or be together, but not work … and that’s not an option today.  When you decided not to choose your story, not to script it, and not to start filming, you chose to do 180 minutes’ worth of work in 90.  So let me get out of your way.”

They were stunned.  After a few minutes, though, groups re-formed in intriguing ways.  Almost everyone did finish choosing, scripting, and filming videos, too.  N, B, and their friends made puppets and wrote an original story!  U was absent, but M and B wrote a great story, illustrated it, and narrated it to me – since they hate-hate-hate to present in front of a group.  Even E and J made a video.

Genuine, high-quality work.  Real effort, real engagement.  That was the best Teacher Appreciation Week present I could have gotten.

We’ll be watching some of the video products in class today, doing Individual Response reading checks, and doing some vocabulary work.  Ambitious and well-organized groups may also research the “Cross of Herculaneum” and think about the possible introduction of early Christian characters into the Tres Columnae story-line.

Debbie’s Google+ comment  helped me process everything:

I wasn’t sure if I was going to have anything to contribute to this discussion of “the brick wall” — stuck, going through the motions. And then I remembered how I facilitate parenting programs: I use their words against them. At the first of the program I get them to identify what they want their children to be like and what that looks/sounds like. I get them to move beyond “well, in this day and age that’s all we can hope for” to the “pie in the sky vision”.
Once I have this image clarified I can then use it to guide their parenting skills. Ex. you want your children to be responsible… so when you pick up after them because it’s less of a hassle, how is that guiding them towards your vision?
For educators it would sound something like this: “You want your students to be able to think. So, you mean processing and meshing information rather than memorizing and repeating information. How much “thinking” do they have to do for worksheets?” (or something like that).

So did Emily’s response to Ms. X’s Friday comment:

”I figure,” she’d said during lunch, “that what I’ve always done is still working pretty well.  If it stops working, I’ll think about changing it.”

This makes me sad.  We keep getting told that, as teachers, we should be “reflective.”  This just isn’t demonstrating that….

Anyway, I am all over +Debbie Pribele‘s comment about picking up after your children “because it’s less of a hassle.”

Hey, real learning takes WORK on both sides, people.  It drives me nuts when teachers complain about how lazy their students are.  The teachers “do so much work for them, and those lazy kids do NOTHING. And they aren’t even interested.”

No, they’re not.  Because you are doing the work FOR THEM.  Maybe they would be interested if they had to do the work.  🙂  That’s how you build a community.  There needs to be ownership and everyone working, not just the teacher.

My mid-morning students have over-learned that the purpose of factory schools is getting good test scores. From experience, they also know they don’t have to focus on the work to excel on those tests.  For some, it’s taken from August to May to discover that the Law of the Farm applies to language learning!  But slowly, surely, that awareness is growing … and slowly, surely, t learning community is growing.  What will we do to expand it and strengthen it in these last few weeks together?

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Published in: on May 7, 2013 at 10:22 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] got me thinking about appreciation, a topic I know I’ve addressed in posts like this one and this one from around this time last year.  In lots of schools (and not just in schools), […]


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