“Have you noticed,” I asked Mr. Y at lunch on Monday, “that a lot of students are really having trouble focusing today?” He had … and he blamed Monday, as we teachers often do. So I asked if, perhaps, the approaching Thanksgiving Break might be a factor as well – and Mr. Y agreed. “I hadn’t thought about it,” he told me, “but you’re probably right. I know I’m starting to shut down and get excited for Thanksgiving, and I bet they are, too.”
Thinking about it – on a small scale like our conversation, or on the larger scale that you need if you’re building and sustaining a joyful learning community – is important. But it requires time, space, perspective, and effort, four things in short supply in a factory-model structure.
B, K, G, and U were having a wonderful time Monday morning. They had a lot to talk about, it seems, from the weekend, and they had no idea that their (loud and animated) conversation might be distracting anybody else. Ms. X and Mr. Y “solve the problem” by yelling and labeling, or by a pain-punishment cycle, or by making a new seating chart … and those are temporary fixes, “solutions” to the immediate issue of the loud, distracting conversation. But when you think about it, do those “solutions” address the underlying issues?
B, K, G, and U aren’t “bad and lazy” (though I’m sure Ms. X has probably labeled them as such), but they aren’t used to managing themselves, and they aren’t used to thinking about it. At school, Ms. X and Mr. Y tell them what to do … and they either do it or get in trouble, but both possibilities are a response to external controls. At home, their parents tell them what to do, when to do it, and why it’s important … and that’s why B, K, G, and U are “good kids,” especially at home. But where is the space and time for thinking about it? When do they really get to internalize the why and the how? When do they have time and space to practice self-management, self-control, and thinking about others?
Not in Ms. X’s class. There’s too much to cover there. Not in those few moments between classes, when Mr. Y is out in the hallway yelling “Hurry up!” No wonder it’s sometimes a struggle to manage yourself in a learning community setting, to think about it and take action accordingly. It’s hard to be an expert without practice, and it’s hard to practice when everybody around you expects perfection right away.
A few of us were distracted in the upper-level class, and K and B didn’t realize their conversation was distracting. I went and talked to them – not as kindly as I might have if it hadn’t been a pattern last week, too – and things got better. And they apologized for being distracted, and I apologized for the tone I’d used with them, and we kept building something like a joyful learning community. But B and K still need practice with managing themselves, with self-control, with considering how their words and actions affect others – and even though B and K will be graduating in a few months, heading off into a Big World of college and work where no one will step in to manage thingsfor them, they’ve had so few opportunities to practice those all-important skills!
But I think of their older siblings, who struggled but succeeded in the end. And I think of the three sisters whose mom I “just happened” to see Monday afternoon – and how we worried over them, and feared for their self-management skills, and how all three are now happily married (or about to be), happily working at jobs they love, successfully navigating the potentially troubled waters of young adulthood. I’d like to think their experiences with learning communities – in the Latin Family, in their own family, and in other places along the way – helped with the transition.
We’ll be talking about character this week in all the classes, about how the virtutes Romanae play out in the lives of Tres Columnae Project characters we’ve come to know well. For the Latin I classes, the focus shifts from little Quintus Flavius (who learns a hard lesson about how your actions affect others’ perceptions of you in the first few stories of Lectio XI) to his father, Flavius Caeso, who learns an equally important, hard lesson at the end. For the upper-level group, now reading Lectio XXXVII, the focus will probably be on the Curtius family, whose unwarranted assumptions and shockingly insensitive behavior … well, just go and read those stories and see for yourself!
If all goes well, the insensitivity and self-absorption of the Flavii Caesones and Curtii Rufi in these stories – and the unfortunate effects they bring upon themselves through their lack of consideration and self-management – will help all of us on our own journeys toward consideration and self-management, too. Thinking about it – about how and why our characters behave as they do, about how they might behave differently and what might happen as a result – is one of the hidden benefits of the joyful learning community approach to language learning. We have some space and time since the characters are separated from us, and we have opportunities to play – and to work – with choices and implications and consequences.
That may just be an important hidden – or not-so-hidden – benefit from our shared work.
I wonder what other insights we’ll all share today!