Making the Grade, IV

Sometimes amazing things happen … and when they do, they usually come when you least expect them!  I’m not sure why I mentioned O in yesterday’s post – but just about an hour after I’d published it, there was O, early to class for once, asking if he could speak to me for a moment.  “I’ve really messed up,” he said, “and I need to know if there’s still time for me to fix it.”  There is, I told him, but it won’t be easy.  We talked a bit about the causes and the personal stuff and the family stuff, and then I asked him if he knew why I’d waited for him to come to me.  “Yes,” he said, “I’m the student, so I’m the one who has to do the work.”

Somehow I managed not to cry.  O’s actions for the rest of the day confirmed his words; he joined a Major Assessment group that still needed to film, took on a part, performed it pretty well, and plans to do his Individual Response this morning.  He also made sure to get the Edmodo group code, came by at the end of the day to make sure it was working, and has started on the arduous process of trying to complete a month’s reading and language practice in a few days’ time.  And when I woke up this morning and looked at my email, I saw a notice from Edmodo about the work he’s already completed.  There was also a notice from B, another of my formerly disengaged students, who had been sick since Monday but had upload his group’s Major Assessment Collaborative Response video.

I think O and B gave me the best Teacher Appreciation Week ever.  To be fair, I also really enjoyed T’s gift of amazing caramel apple slices (seriously, click the “Award-Winning Dessert Apples” tab after you click the link; they’re worth traveling from Wherever You Are to Where We Are), and I liked the school’s gift of a leather-look portfolio.  But O and B’s actions and words of change!  They meant more than anything.  As Debbie put it on Google+,

I have to go back to “tell your stories”.

Raised in a factory-model environment, attending factory-model schools, how can we know what this joyful community stuff looks like and sounds like, let alone know how to create it?

There were even positive changes in the mid-morning class – though if you’d asked me in the moment, I would have asked “What positive changes?”  D, of course, had regressed – a lot – from his amazing improvement  Tuesday.  K was sick, short-tempered, in an arguing mood, and J, U, and B were somewhat talkative and unfocused.  But what could have devolved into a horrible situation last month was just somewhat unpleasant for 20 minutes.  That’s definitely a positive change.

We’d started the day with a “Self-Assessment and Reflection,” using an old-favorite Latin Family form where you rate your comfort level with learning goals on a scale from 1-5, then complete statements like “My greatest strength as a Latin student is …” and “I need to … ”  and “We need to …” and “I’d like Mr. S. to ….”  Without exception, the seven “problem” students said, with written words, that they wanted a pleasant class environment where no one would yell or fuss.  Not five minutes later, they were fussing at each other, creating an unpleasant environment.  “It’s really difficult,” I said, “when you say one thing with words but another thing with  actions.  I have to believe the actions.  And the actions are telling me that you want an unpleasant environment.”

Shocked, they wanted to argue.  “No, we don’t!” they said.  “But when you do this” (and this was a long list of the things they were, in fact, doing while we were having the conversation!) “it’s making the environment unpleasant for everyone.  So you’re telling us you want an unpleasant environment.”

It took a while, but eventually they stopped arguing.  Then, somehow, we read the first two Fabellae in Lectio XXVI and part of the first Fabula Longa.  Once we could make a transition to small-group reading, I asked D and K if they were actually saying they couldn’t sit together.  “No, no, no!” they said.  “I’ll accept that,” I told them, “but I want you to think about why you’re doing what you’re doing, and about the messages we receive from your actions.”

No one – not even their parents – has ever asked them to do that.  But Ms. X and Mr. Y would label them as “nice kids” from “pretty good homes” … though One Ms. X said K “has a little mouth on her, like her sisters did,” and Some Ms. X said something even worse about D.  I saw my friend Ms. M at lunch, and we talked about how rare self-control and personal restraint are becoming.  And then, at the faculty meeting, Other Ms. X and One Mr. Y asked questions that …  to be perfectly honest, I wish I could forget.  But they revealed, with crystal clarity, why D, K, and the others struggle with self-control and seriousness, with consequences and actions.

It’s hard to display self-control when your Powers That Be are out of control, when they yell and label about the very behaviors they’re displaying.  It’s hard to believe that actions have consequences when your Powers are consequence-free.  And why should you be polite to others when Ms. X is constantly rude?

Slowly, so slowly, even the mid-morning class is becoming a community.  A few weeks ago, lots of other side-bar conversations would have started when D and K started theirs; by Wednesday, twenty people waited them out and let me work with them.  Once we were back on track, I made sure to thank everyone – especially J, U, and B, who had been amazingly self-controlled for them.

Gratitude – that’s another vital piece of  joyful community missing from the factory model.  Gratitude, and regard for others.  No one means to seem ungrateful or self-absorbed by “accidentally” leaving trash on the floor – but that’s how it feels to Mr. N when he comes in to clean.  No one intends to be rude by starting another conversation – but that’s how it feels to the people around them.  In our desperate quest for “college and career ready” test scores, we factory-school people have forgotten life-readiness … not the dreadful kind that attempts to homogenize all diversity, but the kind that helps you understand “This is how someone else, from a different background, would interpret what you’re doing.”  The kind that helps you deal with – and avoid – unintentional offenses in a deeply diverse society.

In an outcome-focused world, how will we focus our attention on that critical, but hard-to-test, set of outcomes?  How will we invite Ms. X, Mr. Y, their sad students, and the terrified Powers to sit down together and seek to understand each other?

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Published in: on May 9, 2013 at 10:36 am  Comments (1)  

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