If you’ve ever been (or even known) a teacher in a factory-model setting, you know that those first few days of freedom at the start of the summer vacation aren’t a time of great productivity. Exhausted by their long struggles, many teachers do very little for those first few precious days. Several friends of mine headed directly to the beach, to be waited on by their appreciative spouses and children. Others went home and went directly to bed. Some keep the energy going for a few days, like the participants in my online professional-development class who submitted all the work for their first Unit in a burst of energy right before – or right after – their official release. But even for them, I noticed a small drop-off in productivity as Thursday became Friday and Friday turned into the weekend.
We’ll see what happens this week, now that students have been “released” for a whole week (as of midday today).
Often the first few days of summer are “just me and the animals” time, with everyone else in the family busy with other things. But this year, with some scheduling quirks, we’ve had a few days all together. Sometimes it’s a parallel form of togetherness, with everyone engaged in work or play on a separate screen; other times, we’re fully together over meals, shared entertainment, or even conversation. We’ll have a few more days of that later in the week, though today is a busy one for me: six hours of “curriculum development team” work, which will look a bit different for the “Latin Team” (of me) from what my Spanish, French, Chinese, and German colleagues are doing. My “team” finished more of its original assignment than the others, so “we” will be working on “common assessments” and placement exams as other groups struggle to finish or revise the curriculum documents they prepared last school year.
I’m glad, though, that the whole team will be meeting together. The original plan was that everyone would check in somewhere, then go off individually to work. To a degree, that’s still the plan … but our meeting space promotes both solitude and collaboration, ad I’m grateful for that. If you’ve ever spent six hours of solitary work, you probably know that human interaction – even if only for a moment, as you and your colleague both get a snack at the same time – is vital for real productivity. And yet, though you and I know this – and though my colleagues today will talk about it a few times, I’m sure – poor Ms. X and Mr. Y are so ready to deny their students a thing that they themselves find important and essential. “Stop talking!” barks Ms. X, “and pay attention to my really important PowerPoint and study guide! Stop being bad and lazy!”
I wonder what Ms. X and Mr. Y wrote in response to the email I got last week, from a Power whose work I value and respect. The Power, responding to a request from Yet Higher Up, had asked us to answer three or four questions about academic rigor and what it means to us … and what it looks like, for students and teachers, if a classroom is “rigorous.” If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you know I have an ambiguous relationship, at best, with that word … but leaving aside its etymological connections with stiffness and death, and trying to reclaim a meaning of “challenging but engaging,” I spent a good bit of time responding to the Power over the weekend. But what about Ms. X, who had somehow overlooked an absolutely vital piece of information all year long? “I get so many emails,” she told me, “so I just delete them unless it’s obvious that they really apply to me.” The transition, state-wide, from one student information system to another — and the required online training sessions that Ms. X must complete before mid-August — evidently had fallen into the “just delete them” category. So I wonder what, if anything, she’s written in response to the Power.
As the new week begins, what opportunities will we find for connections, for deepening relationships, for sharing understandings and building joyful communities together? How will we find a good balance between the solitude and the collaboration that we need? And what are some effective ways to get poor, overworked Ms. X – and the frantic Powers who “have to” deal with “bad, lazy teachers” like her – to come together into a deeper, more meaningful community, too?