Waiting in line to check in for my day of jury duty, I “just happened” to see someone I’ve known for years … someone who was very worried about missing a day of work, about all the Urgent Stuff piling up on her desk, and about a process she’d heard about and read about but never actually experienced. So we sat together, chatting from time to time until the announcement came that we wouldn’t be needed after all, and we learned a lot about each other. It was an unexpected, but powerful conversation, and it got me thinking about the power of the unexpected.
One of the important things my friend and I have in common, it seems, is that we are or at least have been known to be impatient. For both of us, impatience tends to bubble up when we feel out of control or overwhelmed by the unfamiliar. And if it’s your first-ever jury summons, as it was for her, and if you’re surrounded by folks who seem to know exactly what they’re doing, but you don’t, impatience is a very natural feeling. After a while, we talked about that, and we shared stories of times when we’ve both felt out of control or overwhelmed … and of memorable dreams we’d both had as children, dreams that probably came in response to a feeling like that.
And then, just as I was about to get into my car and drive home, my “jury service” successfully completed, I heard someone calling my name … and there was another friend, the mom of two former students, who “just happened” to have completely unrelated business at the courthouse that day. And we caught up with each other, and I was glad to know that things had stabilized for her family after a terrifying period when out of control and overwhelmed were daily realities for them. “I bet you need a parking space,” I said, “and I’m just about to leave this one.”
It was a day of unexpected but powerful twists and connections! I don’t yet know how the intermediate and advanced branches of the Latin Family did with yesterday’s tasks, but I’ll be finding out soon. I do know that the Latin I class, while sad to see me leave, were working hard on their Vocabulary Self-Check and their Reflection and Organizer product by the time the enthusiastic, capable-seeming substitute teacher arrived, and I know that at least one group has sent in the video version of their first-ever Embodied Role Play through Edmodo. It will be good to re-establish a rhythm of learning with each group over the next few days, good to put the bad weather behind us for a while, though there’s a Significant Planned Disruption today with lots and lots of Scheduled Announcements that may overwhelm poor Ms. X and Mr. Y.
As I was thinking about my own brush with the power of the unexpected yesterday, I realized that like N and my other “difficult” students, Ms. X and Mr. Y crave a particular form of control, and they want things to be easy, safe, and predictable. Since life, by its very nature, isn’t easy, safe, or predictable a lot of the time, Ms. X and Mr. Y get impatient, just like I do, when they’re out of control or overwhelmed. Since they feel that way almost all the time, I guess it’s not surprising that they’re frequently impatient! And it’s not surprising, after a long string of Teachers Like That, that N and U and B and the others respond with similar impatience when they, too, feel out of control or overwhelmed. Unlike John Hunter, whose powerful book I started reading yesterday as I waited in the Jury Assembly Room, they haven’t yet discovered that feeling overwhelmed is the beginning of real learning. So Ms. X and Mr. Y yell and label, or scold and threaten, or drag out that PowerPoint and “give notes” … and N, U, B, and the others take a quick look and get scared and try to avoid tasks that don’t seem instantly, effortlessly easy.
If you’re working away in a factory-school setting, trying your hardest to “make it another day” or “make the day go a little more smoothly,” the unexpected is terrifying because it shakes you out of that safe, predictable routine. The unexpected can still be scary in a joyful learning community, but at least there’s a community who can face it together, learn from it, and support each other. And if things didn’t go quite as expected, a joyful learning community can regroup and go on together, turning setbacks and frustrations into unexpected, but ultimately powerful opportunities to learn and grow.
I wonder what unexpected, powerful opportunities await us all today!