Sometimes, I think, we all feel caught in the middle – trapped half-way between the Old Thing that’s slowly ending (or already ended, but we just haven’t realized it yet) and the New Thing that’s starting up, but isn’t as far along as we’d like it to be. Tuesday afternoon, when I’d hoped to accomplish some other things, I found myself at a Very Long Meeting called by an Eager Power who’s trying, as hard as she can, to help a large group of language teachers stop thinking of their work as transmitting content and start thinking of it as building skills in their students. A golden opportunity, from her perspective, has arrived in the form of our state’s new accountability framework, which – for the first time ever – will be asking teachers in proficiency-building subject areas like world languages, physical education, and the arts to collect and analyze student work samples over time and reflect on the growth in proficiency that our students show.
If there had been more specific details, it wouldn’t have felt like such a Very Long Meeting. But in her eagerness, the Power involved scheduled the meeting almost impossibly early in the afternoon. Everyone who could make it to the first session was rushed and at least a bit frantic from battling traffic, and then the meeting itself started with an overview of Several Other Things our Power needed to talk about. By the time she reached the heart of the matter, the mumbling and grumbling had already started. And then we got to the draft version of the form, and the unanswerable questions and everything else you can probably imagine.
The goal was to relieve anxiety, to motivate folks to start thinking about what they’ll be asked to do at this time a year from now. But the sad result was greater anxiety, and confusion, and even – it seemed – some headaches and some dismay.
That’s what often happens, though, when you try to rush through the middle. It’s not pleasant to feel caught there, of course, but sometimes it’s important and necessary.
The Latin I classes finally received their Irregular Verb Forms Consolidation Sheets yesterday, and we practiced making Latin phrases like “you want to eat” or “we are able to listen.” I say finally because they’d been asking for the chart for a few days … and I can’t remember that happening when we were on a textbook-driven schedule. Forms of velle and posse start showing up early in the Tres Columnae stories, but we tend to understand them, in context, without any fuss. Now that we’ve been understanding them for several weeks, it was time to provide some structure and organization for the more analytical students, and a sense of the big picture for those who aren’t so analytical. But last year, in my eagerness, I rushed the process, and I had rushed it even more the year before.
Like my colleagues at That Meeting on Tuesday, students in those classes felt anxious, confused, and dismayed because they’d received too much information, too early in the process. But like the Relevant Power on Tuesday, I only had the best of intentions! I wanted to clarify and encourage, to show the bigger picture and prevent trouble down the road. Like the Power, I’d forgotten about ownership and organic growth, about trusting the process and not trying to hurry.
But that’s as hard for teachers as it is for Powers That Be, especially when everything seems to be changing. Especially when you feel caught in the middle, when the Old Ways are slowly dying but the New Ways aren’t quite ready to replace them. Perhaps the only way forward is to build – and trust – a joyful learning community, to build meaning and purpose together, to agree on temporary structures and patterns that bridge the huge gulf between Old and New. That’s what we’re trying to do each day in the Latin Family, and sometimes – often – it seems to be working. I think that’s what the Relevant Power was trying to do on Tuesday, and maybe – just maybe – it will work in due time as well.
I wonder what new insights – and what new forms of being caught in the middle – await us all today!