Earning and Demanding

Saturday was the first of two Saturdays this spring when the Local School District will be holding classes.  After eight days lost to bad weather, and with few other options to squeeze in those days, the Relevant Powers had few other choices.  But it’s the first time in many years that such a thing has happened Around Here, and lots of folks were apprehensive about what might happen.  What if the “bad, lazy students” decided to stay home, and what if their “bad, lazy parents” let them do so?  What if the “bad, lazy teachers” let their students “run wild through the building” all morning?  What if “bad, lazy Powers” didn’t enforce discipline?

I heard variations on this fear of badness and laziness in others all week, and I think the fear led to some of the demands various people made.  There were repeated emails from Relevant Powers about how Saturday was to be “an instructional day” with “no alternative assignments,” no “videos or movies,” no unscheduled, unplanned time.  Various Powers sent email and phone-tree reminders to teachers that lesson plans needed to be made for Saturday, just as for any other day, and turned in to Those Powers in the normal manner.  Students were reminded about the attendance policy, and the time of a school dance on Friday (a dance originally scheduled for what turned out to be a bad-weather day, then rescheduled for the Friday before the Saturday makeup day) changed two or three times as Various Folks attempted to balance the needs of the DJ, the students attending the dance, the faculty members chaperoning, and The Schedule for Saturday’s slightly-shortened classes.

In the end, the day went well for the Latin Family.  But as we worked on our various tasks, I kept thinking about earning and demanding.

Ms. X and Ms. X had been in terrible moods early Saturday morning.  They were both copying Worksheet Packets, or something, when I walked into the faculty workroom to check my mailbox.  “Those Parents are just unbelievable!” moaned One Ms. X, apparently incensed that one particular parent had questioned her close adherence to the Official Pacing Guide for her subject.  I’m not sure why I decided to respond.  “You know,” I said, “I think a lot of the mistrust we’re seeing now is because, over the years, schools haven’t done a very good job of communicating with parents.  I’m just putting on my parent-hat for a moment here.”  But Ms. X would have none of it.  “It’s not my fault,” she moaned, “when Those Parents misspell my email address!  And it’s not my fault when they don’t come inside and talk to me when they pick up their kids after school or after tutoring.”

Apparently Ms. X wasn’t thinking about the locked doors that would prevent parents from coming inside to talk to her … or maybe she expected her “bad, lazy students” to open the doors and let their parents in.  In any case, what Ms. X was doing was demanding.  Demanding respect, demanding that “bad, lazy students” and “Those Unbelievable Parents” conform to her expectations of how students and parents should behave.  Demanding that all students learn on the schedule of the Pacing Guide, which she’d helpfully printed out (on a special color of paper, in fact) and required her students to paste at the front of their identically-arranged notebooks.  And yet, for all her demands, Ms. X gets furious and resentful when others make demands of her.

The intermediate branch of the Latin Family was working on a “quid est in pictura” activity, a task where pairs work together to think of as many Latin words as they can that relate to a picture or a set of pictures.  It’s designed to activate vocabulary before you read, since the pictures are usually taken from Tres Columnae Project stories that we’ve just read or are about to read.  But N, T, and U were loudly talking about something else … or to be fair, N was loudly talking about something else and T and U were joining in, heedless of the growing resentment around them.  “Did you notice the assignment?” I asked quietly, and N loudly insisted that “We’re going to start working!”  Over and over again, as the day went by, N and her friends seemed to be demanding individual redirection.  Of course they’ve all come from Ms. X’s class and are on their way to Ms. X or Mr. Y, situations where demands are made and control is imposed from the outside, where expectations and respect are so minimal that Ms. X and Mr. Y scream for quiet rather than assuming the intelligent young adults in their classrooms can manage their own volume levels.

But something about our discussion of pietas, dignitas, and gravitas on Saturday seemed to resonate for N, T, and U in ways that previous discussions hadn’t.  So did something about the way I asked them why it would be reasonable (or even acceptable) to expect constant reminders of what to do.  I’m not sure what it was, and I don’t remember exactly what I said.  But something caused N, T, and U to come to school on Saturday, even when a lot of their friends had decided to stay home.  And something helps them manage themselves, at least for a while, in ways they didn’t a month or two ago.

Where Ms. X, Mr. Y, and hierarchical Powers often demand respect, a joyful learning community is founded on the notion that respect is earned.  Sometimes you respect the community itself; sometimes you respect its members; sometimes you respect its larger purpose; sometimes you aren’t sure exactly what you respect.  But earned, not demanded respect, respect with rather than to, for, or at each other, is central to the work we do.  On a day of unsettled weather, with all sorts of planned and unplanned events ahead, I wonder what new insights will emerge as we build meaningful things together yet again.

Published in: on March 3, 2014 at 11:38 am  Comments (2)  

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  1. “Where Ms. X, Mr. Y, and hierarchical Powers often demand respect, a joyful learning community is founded on the notion that respect is earned.”

    Some folks seem to operate under the premise that respect is automatically due given certain job titles, powers, etc. They forget the ‘human element’ of being someone who is worthy of respect.

    • Yes, that tendency (to assume that respect is automatically due) is both common and sad. Folks with that mindset tend to demand respect, and then are surprised and sad when they don’t receive it, or when they receive the perfunctory or pro forma show of respect that’s really intended in a disrespectful manner.

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