I was scheduled to be the emergency backup person for the Very Important Testing on Tuesday, which meant that, along with the regularly scheduled folks, I was to meet briefly with the Relevant Power early that morning to find out if I’d be needed. Shortly after the meeting started, poor Ms. X burst in with news of a sick child, a husband with an unbreakable appointment, and (of course) the obvious change in my plans for the day. Just my plans, though; the Latin Family knew where to go and what to do, and based on what I saw after we were done with the Very Long Test, the morning groups had done quite well.
There’s a Special Program today, too, and Great Powers Indeed also mandated that today would be the day of an annual Special Event for interested juniors, the same group who were involved in yesterday’s Very Long Test. I’m glad I was too busy with testing and recovery from testing to see much of Ms. X or Mr. Y on Tuesday! “My lesson plans are a ruin,” they surely said, “because They do things like this to Us.” That often leads to claims about the intelligence level of Them, or Their disconnection from “what schools are really like,” or even claims that They “just don’t care.” As I think of district-level administrators I’ve known, and of friends who have sought out those positions, I rarely see issues with intelligence or caring. What I usually see is the old story of folks who want to change things for the better, but who get caught up in the system as it is. Sometimes the Peter Principle is a factor, too, when excellent teachers become not-so-excellent principals, or when excellent principals become less-excellent Greater Powers.
But what I kept thinking about during the most trouble-free Very Long Test administration I can remember was something else. I kept thinking about the importance of pivoting quickly when you need to. I had just over a minute to hand-write instructions for the beginning and intermediate branches of the Latin Family; copies of the essential handouts were ready, as was an attendance roster, and the materials we’d need to make our Character Diagrams (and to finish our Minor Assessment products, in some cases) were there on a cart in our temporary location. But there wasn’t time for an Edmodo post or for a handout with specific instructions. And as it turned out, none of those things were needed.
The Latin Family has developed (or perhaps just hasn’t lost) the ability to pivot quickly when it’s necessary. Faced with unfamiliar surroundings, my not-entirely-expected role with testing, and kindly Mr. V, who was trying to do three people’s jobs at once and couldn’t give them much attention, they rallied together and accomplished the important goals we’d set together on Monday. Even the afternoon group, exhausted from testing or from waiting for tests to finish, rallied together and enjoyed reading the first part of Pliny’s letter about the boy and the dolphin. They’re the first Latin Family group in a while to predict the dolphin’s fate fairly accurately: “Obviously the Romans are going to kill it,” someone said, “but how? Will it have to fight in a water arena or something?”
If things go as planned, the beginning group will be reading some stories in Tres Columnae Lectio VII today, and the intermediate group will read the beginning of Lectio XXI. The advanced group will learn the actual fate of the poor dolphin, and then we’ll “return to regularly-scheduled programming” in Lectiones XXX and XLIV and Book II of the Aeneid. But things won’t go entirely as planned, I’m sure, and we’ll certainly have to pivot, if only in small ways, by the time the day is over.
I’m not sure why Ms. X and Mr. Y, who usually say they became teachers because they loved school so much, find pivoting so difficult. Schools, by nature, are full of people, and when you work with people, pivoting is unavoidable. Somebody will do something, or say something, or bring something up, or not bring something up, and your carefully-made plans will have to change. And yet Ms. X and Mr. Y somehow cling to a notion of predictability, of following the plan, despite all their years as teachers (and students before that) when the plan had to change.
There’s something endearing about Ms. X and Mr. Y’s faith in the plan, though, and about the faith that Greater Powers Yet seem to have in plans and curriculum guides and pacing guides and orders of instruction and all sorts of other documents. “If we could just get the plan right,” they all seem to think, “and make the bad, lazy ones follow it, then everything would be wonderful again just like it was in the Good Old Days.” Of course there weren’t Good Old Days, and the plan can’t be right, and the “bad, lazy ones” can’t be made to follow it, and even if that could happen things wouldn’t all be wonderful … but it’s a lovely image, as lovely (and unrealistic) as the freckle-faced children and smiling parents gathered around dinner tables in mid-century advertisements for processed food or the latest brand of cutlery. If only it were that simple, and if only factory processing really could fulfill the promises those ads made!
But at the end of the factory-age, as we move forward into challenging and uncertain post-factory times, pivoting is possibly more important than it’s ever been. The factory-promise can’t be kept; the perfect plan can’t be written; the existing plan can’t be perfectly implemented no matter how many threats and promises you make to the “bad, lazy ones.” What’s left? The people and the situations, the need for joyful community, the call for deciding what’s important and getting out of the way while it gets done. And isn’t that enough?
I wonder what other new insights and discoveries await on this busy day!