Or should the title be excellent and imperfect? Or even excellent because imperfect? The quest for perfection can blind us to excellent and amazing and wonderful things happening all around us. Friday was full of great reminders of that.
Both Latin I classes had been working on their first Minor Assessment products all week, and in a “perfect” world, everyone would have been ready to present on Friday. Four out of eight groups in the large class were ready, while two others were partially ready; two others really needed one more day. In the smaller class, both groups spent most of the day putting finishing touches on their Products and will be making their presentations today. Back when I was driven by perfection, when I wanted to follow a “perfect” schedule and use my “perfect” lesson plans, I would have been upset, even angry. But on Friday, I savored what we had accomplished. There’s plenty of time for the remaining presentations – and the Embodied Role Plays – today; we can even save a few for Tuesday if necessary.
Rushing for perfection’s sake never helps: the results aren’t perfect, and the atmosphere \ is poisoned. As I looked back over my lesson plans from the third week of last year, the equivalent of the week that starts today, I saw extensive notes I’d made, including disappointment about lack of focus. Ouch! No wonder we started feeling less like a joyful community, more like a regular factory-model class! No wonder we struggled with the pain-punishment cycle and labeling and ugly days! To be fair, there was a lot of factory-model stuff going on outside our classroom door, and it badly affected all of us … but I can now see my part, too. I was in a hurry, and I wanted things perfect – a perilous combination.
But this year, for many reasons, I’m not in a hurry, and I’m much more interested in excellent, amazing, and wonderful than in perfect. So we had a chance to look at C’s pictures from a visit his family had made to Herculaneum a few years ago, when they were stationed somewhere in Europe. (Last year, around the same time, N offered her similar pictures, but we “didn’t have time” for some reason.) And everyone in both Latin I classes felt good about sorting and classifying nouns into declension categories (we’ll give them their official names this week) and about applying the patterns we’ve seen. Everyone (who finished) did a beautiful job with Phase I of the Minor Assessment, and everyone who wasn’t quite finished had put in a lot of effort.
When I saw K in the hallway between classes, I thanked her for the amazing insight she’d helped me with on Thursday – and she was surprised, but grateful. And the upper-level group was quieter, more focused, despite their continued stress. “It’s a really bad day,” whispered U as she came in, “because my relative isn’t doing well at all, and I’m really worried.” I reassured her, and eventually she was able to take things in even though she couldn’t produce very much.
As we read the stories in Tres Columnae Lectio XXVIII, which are all about life transitions like the ones they’re facing themselves, the upper-level class has been talking about driving and restraining forces that affect people when we struggle with decisions. We thought about universal ones and culturally specific ones, though we haven’t used those terms yet. We made our first set of driving and restraining force diagrams on Friday, and I was impressed. I’m still concerned about D, D, C, and E, who couldn’t make a diagram; I’m less concerned about B, B, and U, since B and B were busy trying to help U through her really bad day. There’s plenty of time – and plenty of story-line – for them to demonstrate they can move beyond the words and phrases of a story to address the characters and themes.
We’ll be looking more closely at this story today, finding participia in it and using our relatively new, two-part Analytic Hand Signals to analyze them. And then we’ll be taking complex sentences and breaking them apart into simpler ideas, seeing how the interplay of main verbs and participia affects our understanding of the greater picture. It’s a complex task, and it may be too complex for D, D, C, and E – but they tend to rise to the occasion when I tell them we’re trying something brand new, something that’s a risk for me as well as for them.
Ms. X never says that, of course, because Ms. X never does that. Ms. X wants to be the expert, the source of information, because any other role would be too risky and scary. I have a Ms. X / Mr. Y side too, of course, but it’s quieter, less active than it used to be.
It’s still hard for some of my students not to see me as the perfect expert with all the answers! But slowly, steadily, that understanding has been growing – and it really has changed everything. After school, if all goes according to plan, there’s a meeting where I’ll be training my colleagues in some of the details of the New Student Information System … and there, too, I won’t be the perfect expert with all the answers as I was with the Former System. Since I’d been using the old system Not Quite Forever, it was easy to predict potential problems and issues – so easy that I’d predict them and prevent them and, I now realize, prevent my colleagues from growing in their own expertise. “We need you,” they’d say, and I’d help them … but was it helpful? Or was it just another expression of false perfection, the same impulse that leads Ms. X to yell and label, that led Former Me to try to speed things up?
When you’re building a joyful community, there actually is enough time. It may not feel that way, but there is – as long as you trust the process and remember you’re building with, not for other members. When you forget – when you start trying to build for, not with – time grows short and tempers flare. But when you trust the excellent, imperfect process, amazing things happen all the time.
I wonder what will happen today!