Knowing What, Knowing How, Knowing When

On Sunday afternoon, with both The Girl and The Boy at scheduled activities, I finally had time and opportunity to run an important, but boring errand … and then I even had time and opportunity to sit at a local coffee shop, do some “just for me” reading, and write a draft of a new Tres Columnae Project story which just might turn into the third Fabula Longa of Lectiō XXXI.  It features a sudden (and possibly temporary) expression of religious pietās by Caelius Caldus, who has just arrived at the family’s domus urbāna in Naples after a narrow escape from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  As a wealthy, politically-connected Roman, Caelius obviously knows what to do to honor both his ancestors and the dī omnēs, and he certainly knows how … but somehow – and there are hints in this story, which I’ll be glad to share with you after it passes editorial examination by two or three groups in my upper-level class – he hasn’t found the time.

What, how, and when are all important – and not just for a wealthy Roman who’s barely escaped a horrible death!  But what, how, and when can be harder than they first appear.

I think of a colleague and friend who usually announces around this time, every year, that she’s “done with it” and the current year “will definitely be the last one.”  My colleague officially retired a number of years ago, and she’s been working part-time, as teachers in These Parts can do, ever since.  This year the announcement came earlier and more bitterly than usual: “They know this is my last year ever,” she said, “and They are trying to make it as bad as possible.”  Having completed the official retirement process, my colleague has both theoretical and practical knowledge of what and how, but she’s struggling – and has been struggling for a while – with when.  I can understand and empathize with her desire to blame Them, but I have a strong suspicion that there’s an internal conflict, too.  She both wants and doesn’t want to move on to a new phase of life … and having been through that struggle myself, I know how painful it can be, how tempting and easy to blame an external Them rather than an internal conflict.  But having known this colleague for many years, I know she’ll find the right what, how, and when for her transition.

As I was sitting at that local coffee shop, just about to start writing the new story (or so I thought!), I got a call from a friend who’d been out of town over the weekend at an Amazingly Wonderful Thing.  It was a Thing that almost didn’t happen, too – the what and the when had been clear, but she’d struggled with the financial side of how for a while.  She wanted to talk about the Thing, but she also needed to talk about the mutual friend who had taken care of home and pets while she was away.  “She said she’d done laundry and dishes,” I was told, “but I found dirty laundry and dirty dishes everywhere.  I should probably talk with her, since I know she wants to start a house-sitting and pet-sitting business.”  Having known the Mutual Friend for many years, I was able to help the Upset Friend work through issues of what and how and when, important things to think about when you’re facing a difficult, but needed conversation.  And it was only after that, when I’d returned home, that the time and opportunity came together to write that still-unpublished story.

The large Latin I class struggled with story and question creation last week – and I think they were struggling with what, how, and when too.  For at least two groups, I know it was a question of what to write about; even though the overall structure of the story was clear (“an interaction between a patrōnus and a cliēns at the salūtātiō“) and there was an example they could follow, years of “Do things Ms. X’s way Or Else” have led them to build a wall between school stuff and creativity.  For others, the big question was how.  After years of excellent grades from minimal effort, they’re suddenly confronted with a school-based experience where minimal effort will yield minimal results, and they don’t quite know what to do about that.  And for a few others, the biggest issue was when: they’re still in touch with their creativity and are willing to apply some effort, but time management is a new experience for them.  If there had only been a specific timeline – “in 15 minutes, you’ll need to finish Step 1, and Step 2 should be finished 20 minutes after that” – they’d be fine, but allocate time for a multiple-step task?  All by themselves?  That’s a new experience – a powerful, important one, but a new one.  And of course there were a few students who struggled with what and how, or how and when, or what and when, or all three … and doubtless a few who hoped that if they appeared to struggle helplessly and hopelessly, Ms. X the Rescuer would swoop in, yell and label, tell them what to do, and make it all go away.

But she won’t, and neither will I.  Because dealing with what, how, and when is important – more important than the results of Minor Assessment #1 for the second reporting period of Latin I.  More important than Ms. X’s notebook or copying the information from Mr. Y’s PowerPoint.  No matter what you do in life – especially in our networked and interconnected world – issues of what, how, and when will keep showing up, and you’ll need the skills and mindset to approach them thoughtfully.

But factory-model schools just yell and label about students with “bad time management” or “no study skills.”  Ms. X blames the students and parents; Powers That Be blame the teachers and lesson plans.  Blame is easy; rolling up your sleeves and working with, not for individual learners is hard.

But I’ve learned a lot about the what, how, and when of that kind of work, and when you’re building a joyful community, that’s where the attention and effort need to be focused.  I think I know how to have the important, difficult conversations with those students today … but when the time and opportunity are there, I’ll find out!

I wonder what new discoveries and adventures await us today!

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Published in: on October 7, 2013 at 10:36 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] I’m really glad I’d thought about reacting and responding yesterday morning, and about how, when, and why the day before! […]


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