It’s odd to come back from a long weekend – what should be a time of rest, refreshment, and refocusing – and find confusion, anger, exhaustion, and fretfulness instead. But for many of my colleagues, Tuesday was a day full of confusion and anger, which left them – and students and me – exhausted and fretful. Due to a lot of changes from, the school district’s longtime policy of exempting all “prospective current-year graduates” from final exams ended this year, leaving each school to decide what, if anything, to do about seniors taking (or not taking) final exams in courses without state-provided ones. After discussing the issue in a faculty meeting weeks ago, we’d agreed – or seemed to agree – that seniors with “a grade of 80% or higher” would be exempt from exams. Those who were struggling, who needed the boost of the exam grade or hadn’t quite shown mastery of essential course content, would take exams, but early … on the Tuesday after Memorial Day.
But when the day came, loose ends caused trouble.
Did that “grade of 80% or higher” refer to the students’ overall grade in a course or their average for the fourth reporting period? Who would tell the seniors whether they needed to take exams, and when? Where and when would the exams be administered, and by whom? No one brought up these questions in that meeting, so everybody assumed – and assumed differently.
The results were predictable: anger and confusion. “Could you check,” asked F that morning, “and see if I need to take my exam in Ms. X’s class and Ms. X’s class?” I looked, and it was clear that F would be taking both exams if Ms. X (and Ms. X) followed the policy. “Did Ms. X tell you anything about her exam?” I asked … but I knew the answer. If she had, F never processed it; there was nothing in writing, of course; and since I saw F in the morning, before Those Classes, I don’t know what happened.
“I need to go and sign in,” said C, who doesn’t have a first-hour class. “But weren’t you here for the last-hour class since we changed the schedule?” I asked her. No, she said, no one had ever told her about the schedule change, and she hadn’t processed the posters – which all say “Exam Schedule” anyway – because she did know she’d be exempt from exams under the new policy.
Anger and recrimination. Ms. X and Mr. Y giving and receiving both. They’d assumed that “They” would administer senior exams centrally, while “They” assumed teachers would give them in their own classrooms – while the teachers, presumably, were also reviewing material with non-seniors in their classes. My one senior who needed to take a Latin exam just put on headphones to avoid distractions. But L knows the ways of the Latin Family, and he’s a mature, responsible young man. Ms. H and Mr. P, given a stickier situation, just exchanged seniors each class period – but they’re proactive. For Ms. X and Mr. Y, anger and recrimination were more fun, in the short term, than maturity or common sense.
“They,” said One Ms. X when I was retrieving a print job, “are making things impossible for Us, because They didn’t think this through.” Ms. X had read part of a document – the part about when senior grades other than exams were due – and concluded that “They” wanted an exam that wouldn’t count. “I’m going to hold those kids to it anyway,” she fussed and fretted. Of course the packet said grades “other than exam grades” … and state-mandated exams hadn’t even started. But none of that mattered to Ms. X. “They” (same group or different?) also deserved blame for proposed legislation that might affect Ms. X’s paycheck in a few years … because “They” don’t understand or care about “Us.”
As I listened to Ms. X, and thought about our shared students – the ones who, after many months of struggle, finally formed a joyful community and started building meaningful things together – I had a strong impression of “spoiled, whiny child.” And I wasn’t thinking about those “bad, lazy” students.
Perhaps I was caught up in the anger and recrimination too! Perhaps I fell into the labeling trap, just like she does. Poor Ms. X! She knows, without question, that “We” teachers do Important Work, so “We” deserve rewards, recognition, pay raises. She’s furious, though, at the thought of distinctions between teachers – even though she’s constantly making such distinctions between students. “It isn’t fair,” she whines, “because the kids are all different, and they’re bad and lazy, and some of them don’t have supportive homes, and society has changed for the worse. How can They grade Us on Our test scores?” That’s certainly an important point to consider! But faced with individual requests those very same students, she’s furious: “You bad, lazy students! How dare you ask for special treatment? I have Absolute Grading Standards right here in my curriculum, and I’m going to follow them! Besides, you didn’t bring a box of tissues for extra credit last month.”
Ms. X, as I’ve noted before, is bad at irony. She can’t see how one step – the way she responds to students’ requests – might trigger another, like the ways Powers That Be or Everyday Citizens respond to her. But I don’t blame Ms. X, Powers, or Citizens. Trapped in an infantilizing factory-world as we’ve all been, it’s hard to see any other way.
But there is another way … and it’s connected with the journey of discovery. As Debbie put it on Google+,
one’s journey – the discovering, developing, and usage of natural gifts, talents and purposes, plus that of the unnatural skills – all leading us along a path towards, well, something that contributes to the greater good. For each of us that contribution is different.
Some of us know at a young age what the contribution will be and it is a matter of fine-tuning the skills and opening the doors when opportunity knocks. For many of us the entire life is the journey of figuring out how we are to make our big contribution.
Some of us, unfortunately, never discover the purpose – some contributing without realizing it and some fighting it all the way and contribute in a negative way.
But all epic. Just think of the great-grandmother who spent her life putting food on the table for her family, kissing boo-boos on injured knees, and providing an ear during troubled times. She may not think her journey is anything grand but grand it is!
And the journey doesn’t end at discovering that you are a teacher, going to college, getting a job, and teaching school. The journey is filled with new discoveries, new opportunities, and new challenges.
It’s pretty exciting isn’t it.. I wonder what is around the next corner of my journey??!!!
Even within the heart of a Ms. X, a Power, the “worst and laziest” student, there’s still a dream and a longing. As the factory-world crumbles, as communities and networks replace hierarchies, how do you know when to take those first tentative, outward steps? How do we invite poor Ms. X, terrified Powers, and beaten-down “bad, lazy ones” to take their steps? How do we all build communities and networks together?