Unlike many friends and colleagues in the Midwest, who’ll be spending today at home thanks to life-threatening cold and a heavy winter storm, we’ll be returning to a somewhat-normal school routine this morning. Somewhat normal because there are exactly five days of regular classes, four days of final exams, a makeup exam day, a long weekend … and then a new start, with new classes for the new semester. Most of the Latin I students will be going “straight through” to Latin II, and most of the III’s will be progressing to Latin IV, but some will be leaving us, some will be rejoining us after a semester away, and then there are about twenty new Latin I students to welcome to the family.
So January, which is a season of starting for many people, always feels like a time of both starting and ending to me. I think of the Roman god Janus, who gave his name to the month … and whose two faces nicely represent the theme of starting and ending that’s been on my mind for the past few days. If you’ve looked at the Tres Columnae Project site recently, you may have noticed some additional audio files in Lectiō XXXVI, and if you’re particularly sharp-eyed, you may have noticed this new story in Lectiō XIV and this one in Lectiō XVI. Both are starting and ending stories, I realize, as they mark important life transitions for several characters and introduce themes that will be important in the narrative future. In the stories of Lectiō XLV and beyond, the ones that are almost but not quite ready for publication, I’ve also been wrestling with themes of starting and ending. You may be able to make some reasonable guesses and predictions about how those themes play out if you’ve been reading carefully, but you’ll probably find some unexpected plot twists, some startings and endings that don’t go quite the way you expected.
That’s the thing about creating a storyworld … and that’s the thing about living life. More often than not, things don’t go exactly – sometimes not even remotely – according to your careful plans!
The plan for Saturday was simple. We’d all get up fairly early, and I’d go and get ingredients for an early breakfast of pancakes and turkey sausage (in deference to The Girl, who doesn’t eat red meat). Then we’d do a few errands, have a festive lunch out, come home, relax a bit, and finish the day with a version of this favorite dish. But nothing went exactly according to plan. Fairly early became fairly late, breakfast became brunch, everyone on Those Errands became just The Girl and me, lunch became an early takeout dinner from another favorite spot, Saturday evening became a time to get ready for Monday, and the favorite dish was just the thing for lunch on a warm, rainy Sunday. The Girl wasn’t feeling well Sunday afternoon, so she spent her time resting up for the busy week ahead. The Boy was tired, too, and he ended up asleep on the sofa as we watched a few episodes of an old-favorite TV show or two from his childhood. Then came a quiet dinner at a favorite spot, a few moments writing a draft of this post at the Local Coffee Shop, a peaceful evening, unusually restful sleep for the First Day Back.
Careful plans are important, of course, but you have to know when to cling and when to deviate, to embrace the moment and follow the serendipitous path that might not have appeared if you hadn’t done the planning. That’s important to keep in mind at this time of starting and ending for the Latin Family, too. When I planned out the remaining days of first-semester classes, I made sure to leave room for the unexpected, for the creativity and joyful learning that will emerge as different groups create filmed versions of their favorite recent storylines. We’ll be touching up and brushing up on some important vocabulary and grammatical concepts, too, but I deliberately haven’t written most of those assignments; I need to know what the exact areas of need are, and I really need a feel for the energy and stamina of each group. We’ll need a gentle, caring place if Ms. X and Mr. Y fall into the all-too-predictable yelling and labeling – if their “bad, lazy students” didn’t do those Huge Review Packets over Winter Break – if Ms. X and Mr. Y were “too busy” (or too tired) “to grade all those papers” themselves, if students’ questions about “what’s my grade?” have led to more yelling and labeling, more pain-punishment cycles, more of a feeling of frantic rush at what could be a time of reflection and celebration.
Building joyful learning communities … it’s much more rewarding, I think, than trying to keep the factory-model classroom going, but it’s challenging when the nascent joyful community is surrounded by ever more desperate factory-attempts. Thanks to a deeply thoughtful gift from some friends, I’ve started reading Alan November’s book Who Owns the Learning? … and I’m captivated by the image of the “Digital Learning Farm,” but I’m also overwhelmed by the sheer scale of transforming factory-schools into “Digital Learning Farms.” But on this day of starting and ending, I’m reminded of a favorite movie we didn’t have time to watch over the weekend – one whose central message is about the power of joyful community, broadly and unconventionally defined, to overcome seemingly impossible odds.
With that message in mind, with the promise of a new day, a new week, a new month, a new year, and (soon) a new semester ahead, I wonder what other amazing discoveries await us today!