Apparently Tuesday was a terrible day for One Mr. Y. When I saw him Wednesday morning, he was upset and frustrated … not so much with his students (though I think they’d been a bit “bad and lazy” if you asked him), but with life in general. A close relative of his is in the hospital, and when he went to visit her on Tuesday, he was amazed – even appalled – that she was being treated “like a number, not a person.” Ms. X and Ms. X, who were also running copies at the time, agreed that it was just horrible that They were treating Mr. Y’s relative like that.
And then everyone headed back to “their” classrooms, where they (presumably) planned to treat all of their students exactly the same, and where they’d be grumbling about the bad, lazy ones and the pushy ones and the “unbelievable parents” who thought their children deserved “some kind of special treatment.”
I prefer my dramatic irony in literary forms.
Not ten minutes later, the oddest thing happened. D, who loves to run around in the hallway before class, wasn’t looking where he was going, and I wasn’t looking where I was going … and you can probably imagine the rest. But maybe you can’t! “D,” I said, “I am so sorry; I didn’t see you.” He was momentarily speechless; I’m sure he was expecting some yelling and labeling and maybe even a pain-punishment cycle or two. But it really was partly my fault, and I took ownership of my part – and he was speechless. For D, that’s almost unheard of! He was … not exactly quiet and focused, but less loud and less unfocused during class, too, even though we were working on a thing he routinely hates and avoids. And we even had some time to talk – some of “the thirteen” and me – about some of the things that are troubling them.
While the rest of the school was participating in small-group reflections on a commemorative video about 9/11, the seniors had met with the Official Representative of the company that sells them graduation regalia, announcements, and So Forth. “It’s really, really stressful!” they said – and as they talked about why it was stressful, I saw another piece of dramatic irony. If you asked “the thirteen,” none of them would say they love school … but the thought of leaving it, of moving on to a world where they know they’ll have to take ownership of their lives and choices, is terrifying, too. “Stressful” and “too much drama” are the surface-level words they use – and I’m grateful to them for letting me see a layer or two below that surface.
D is feeling the “stress” and “drama” too, it seems, and that’s probably another reason for his lack of focus and lack of impulse control. Life was easier and simpler when he just got labeled bad and lazy or disruptive and disrespectful, when a prior Ms. X yelled and labeled and Prior Powers imposed consequences on him. Boundaries were clear, and so were expectations … and D knew exactly how far to push things, exactly when to stop before he got in “real trouble” with Ms. X or a Power.
Another dramatic irony: Ms. X and the Powers, if you asked them, would say they were only trying to help. They were trying to “hold him accountable” and “teach him a lesson” … but the one he received wasn’t quite the one they had in mind. They thought they were building up some self-control, but they were really “helping” D become very other-controlled.
I prefer my dramatic irony in fiction, as I may have mentioned.
So, builders and sustainers of joyful learning communities, what are the next steps? How can D, his friends, and I work with, not for him? How can “the thirteen” and I work with, not for each other? And – as I asked my ninth-graders yesterday, at the end of our conversation about the 9/11 video – how will we work together to honor those we’ve lost and recapture a spirit of unity?
I wonder what new insights, new discoveries, new dramatic ironies will appear today!