With Midterm Exams officially over yesterday – though some of my students still need to finish their Collaborative Response products, and a few classes are taking exams today due to a field trip yesterday, and there are always a few students who were absent or sick – but the reporting period ending on Friday, it’s an odd time between things for the next few days. Were it not for the New Student Information System, Ms. X and Mr. Y firmly believe they’d be all done with those grades by now … but Ms. X and Mr. Y always waited till the last possible minute with the Old System, too. “I was going to give notes,” said One Ms. X at lunch the other day, “but I think The Kids are going to be really tired. So I’m going to give them a guided reading assignment instead.” And I assume that the “guide” was a worksheet, probably full of blanks to fill in or factual-recall questions to answer … and I have a suspicion that her students inwardly groaned when they saw it, but figured it was better than the alternative. That Ms. X teaches subjects where hands-on work would be easier and better to develop than PowerPoints and worksheets … and I know she knows that, but she struggles to let go of the old, safe, familiar ways, to let go of her inner model of teachers and teaching and embrace something new and unfamiliar.
Like all of us, That Ms. X is caught between things, and not just because it’s the end of the grading period.
Another Ms. X was admiring some things that the Latin Family had made and posted in the hallway. They’ve been up for a while, but she’d been busy and hadn’t really had a chance to look at them until yesterday. “There will be more,” I told her, “especially in the next week or so, when we wrap up our unit about schools and education in the Roman world.” This Other Ms. X was surprised; she teaches language courses, too, and her students are also learning about schools – which isn’t surprising since, a few years ago, the World Language teachers sat down and agreed on common themes that we’d address each reporting period. But Ms. X wasn’t on that committee, didn’t realize the themes applied to more than just her area. She was excited, though, and she suggested that our classes might do something together, something that compares education in the Roman world with education in The Cultures She Teaches and with education in our own world. We’ll be meeting this afternoon to iron out some of the details. And it’s exciting, because even though we’re between things, we’re clearly moving in a very different direction from, say, a year or two ago.
“Have you noticed the different feeling?” I asked a Veteran Colleague who’s very perceptive about these things. “Yes,” she said, and then we spent some time trying to find the right words. “This isn’t quite it,” she said, “but it feels more professional somehow.” For a while, she said, she’d felt as though there were “a bunch of teenagers” and “a bunch of people who weren’t much more mature than the teenagers” – and we both laughed, perhaps a bit wryly, as we thought of A Particular Ms. X or two and A Certain Mr. Y, now departed, who fit that category rather well. But my Veteran Colleague also feels a sense of between things … and not just because her job has changed significantly as the New Student Information System replaces the Old Familiar One.
In a factory-model classroom, times between things are hard. “Those bad, lazy kids wouldn’t pay attention or take my notes today,” A Former Ms. X (or several!) would often complain at such times. “But there’s so much to cover, and they did really badly on their exams even though I gave them a Study Guide with all the answers. So we are moving on, and there will be a test, and if they do badly, they do badly.” It was the factory-dance, and her students recognized it even if the Former Ms. X set didn’t.
Between times are different in a learning community, especially a joyful one. They’re an opportunity to pause and reflect, to take stock, to finish things up and make new things. B, who’d been so distracted and upset for a while, apologized and told me part of what’s been going on with him – and he was really glad that his Major Assessment response showed he hadn’t regressed in his understanding of Latin. “Things will get better,” I assured him, “and as you’re working on the Collaborative Response, it will actually make you go and read all the stories you didn’t read the first time.” He looked at me – and he realized something important about the organic growth of proficiency in a language, something that makes sense to him as a musician and an athlete. We’ll see what happens with B over the next few days … and we may be able to celebrate the way B and U did. Both of them, much to their surprise, have made it through a significant proficiency level change in the past few weeks. They were solidly stuck at the Novice level in September, but they’ve clearly moved to Intermediate Low now … and they were happy, and they’ve been working hard on their Major Assessment Collaborative Response, and it’s so much better than anything I’ve seen from them in the longest time.
That’s the thing about joyful learning communities – the between times are times for quiet growth, even when you don’t see direct evidence. Ms. X and Mr. Y would have stormed, raged, and threatened – and at one time I might have, too – and that would have done nothing but possibly delay the quiet growth. As builders and sustainers of joyful learning communities, we have to remember that it’s not all up to us! We have to get out of the way, do no harm, let ownership happen, watch for results, and sometimes water and fertilize the flowers that grow.
I wonder what new evidence of growth we’ll see today!