Managing, Coping, Surviving

For Ms. X, Ms. X, and Ms. X, it’s all about coping and surviving this week.  Ms. X and Ms. X were fussing and fretting about a set of “bad, lazy students” Monday morning – and about their “parents who need to be parents,”  by which Ms. X and Ms. X meant “take Those Phones and Those Game Systems away and make them go to bed.”  If only that happened, Ms. X and Ms. X believe, the “bad, lazy students” would magically complete their assignments, get good grades, and do well on The Test.  “When they don’t finish things in class and have to take it home to finish, that’s not homework!” said One Ms. X, who apparently assigns Other Stuff that she puts in that category.  The Other Ms. X agreed vehemently.

I left, not wanting to hear more.  Sometimes coping and surviving requires that you manage your exposure to conversations like that.  But unfortunately, if B, B, or U tried to manage their exposure to such conversations – to cope and survive by, say, leaving Ms. X’s class – pain-punishment cycles would quickly follow.  And perhaps Ms. X and Ms. X feel equally trapped, lash out with such statements as a way to cope and survive themselves.

“I’m just ready for Friday,” Somebody Else said.  And perhaps Ms. X and Ms. X will be feeling better after their much-needed Winter Break.

Later in the day, Mr. Y was fussing and fretting about a meeting some colleagues reminded him to attend.  “Isn’t there Another Meeting I’m supposed to go to?” he asked.  No; it was last week.  “But I thought we already had This Meeting.”  Yes, but there’s another task that needs to be completed.  “But I wanted to go home and relax!  I just spent an hour arguing with those lazy kids who think they’re already on vacation!”

Coping and surviving – when those are the only goals, or the only goals you focus on – can cause you not to notice you’re displaying the very same behaviors and attitudes that make you angry when others (“those bad, lazy kids!”) display them.  And when you’re focused on coping and surviving, you want to manage other people – to manage their behaviors and attitudes, to “make them” finish those tasks and do the “real” homework, to point out angrily how their bad decisions put them in this difficult situation.  We talked about some related issues on the Google+ thread about yesterday’s post.

“Just work on the relationships.  The teaching will follow.  (And faster if you work on the relationships first.)” said Meg.  And that’s true … but Ms. X, Ms. X, and Mr. Y think they’re too busy – and probably are too scared – to “waste time” on “touchy-feely stuff” like relationship-building.  Brendan added,

I think one step is to build a network of others who aren’t so inclined to panic… at least that’s a starting point.It’s hard not to suggest meditation, as well. 🙂

Planning ahead is another step, which you’ve already taken by “front-loading” your classes.  Confronting risks and possibilities head-on can help prepare for times when they do happen.

Sometimes it helps to just put everything in context, appreciate what we all have, note how things could be better or worse, and ask, does it really make sense to panic?

And that’s great advice … but hard, again, for Ms. X, Ms. X, and Mr. Y, who live and work in a conceptual world where “everybody” (from their perspective) panics at this time of year, and where a panicky race to cover everything else is what’s supposed to happen in those last few days of a semester.

And when that’s the surrounding culture, there’s only so much a joyful learning community within that larger culture can do.  The Latin I classes had a good, productive Monday making holiday-themed versions – at their suggestion – of the Vocabulary Organizer and Minor Assessment products they were working on.  But by midday, B, B, and U were completely distracted.  “Did you notice the assignment?” I asked at one point – “Oh!” said B, “we need to get busy circling those things!”  No, I said, not the small assignment we’d done – and checked together, though B, B, and U apparently hadn’t noticed – fifteen minutes earlier, but the larger assignment, the story-creation one involving the characters and situations they had requested.  B, B, and U are so used to coping and surviving – so used to being managed and to artificial consequences when they don’t get things done – that it’s still hard for them to cope and survive in an environment where the management tasks fall on them.  “You do realize that you now have less than an hour to do two hours’ worth of work, don’t you?” I asked after lunch – and that usually triggers a “we’re sorry!” or some other coping and surviving response.  But it doesn’t trigger self-management, and it doesn’t trigger action, and it won’t lead to long-term success in a world where self-management is, more and more, the price of entry.

Sometimes B, B, and U need the “surge of adrenaline” that Brendan and Meg were discussing … and sometimes they need E to direct and manage them, to “make them” do stuff.  If that’s inherent in their personalities, fine; I know there are some things I really dislike doing, and some of them go better if I wait until there’s some deadline pressure on me, too.  But if I asked B, B, and U, I’m not sure they could tell me.  They’ll be living on their own in less than a year, trying to navigate the complex waters of Relatively Good Colleges with nobody to manage them.  Will that lead to panic and failure and disaster, or will they rise to the occasion and astonish themselves with what they can accomplish?

I’m not sure.  And I’m not sure what they’ll accomplish today, either.  But joyful learning communities don’t have to be places of certainty … and they do have to be places where false starts and temporary failures lead to deeper, more lasting, more important learning in the end.

I wonder what new, lasting lessons await us today!

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Published in: on December 17, 2013 at 11:39 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] who deserves it for what.  Where Ms. X and Ms. X saw “parents who need to be parents” the other day, I think I see parents trying to figure out how to be parents in a world that’s totally […]


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