Riding Those Waves

I happened to have a moment, right before the intermediate branch of the Latin Family arrived, to see that Debbie had made a Google+ comment about what I’d written earlier that morning.  I’m glad I had time to read it, because a big wave was on the way and I needed to get ready … but not excessively ready … to ride it and respond to it.  “Isn’t it wonderful,” Debbie asked,

to “hold out one’s hand to help” instead trying to grab hold and own it?
As I read the part about being ready for a deadline and an idea popped into my head. It is just an idea and I haven’t thought it through but I will share it anyway, in case it triggers some other, much Wiser, idea. …
Pre-deadline “journal”: How do you think you will do on the project/test? If you do well, what do you think the contributing factors will be? If you don’t do well, what do you think the reasons will be?
This, then, gives them information about what they need to be working on and it helps them develop that sense of ownership and responsibility for their own actions and their goals.
And then thirty-some happy, unfocused, energetic young people came rushing in, just about half from favorite other classes where they get to do some meaningful things or explore things that fascinate them, the other half from 95 minutes or so of Ms. X and Mr. Y.  And it was a beautiful spring day, and it’s Spirit Week, and the theme for the day was “College Day.”  Wear sweatshirts and other things with the logo of your favorite college, or if you’re a senior, wear stuff from the school you’ll be attending. (Today is “Twin, Triplet, and Quadruplet Day,” when friends are to dress alike, and there’s a “Spirit Week competition” to see which grade level has the most participation each day.  “This is great!” said someone in the hallway, “I can wear Whatever all week, and The Teachers can’t do anything.”)

N, T, and U weren’t exactly screaming with excitement, but they were definitely excited … and talking loudly, and ignoring everything around them including the irritation of twenty or twenty-five classmates.  “Evidently,” I said, “you think you did the first assignment perfectly, and so did everybody else.”  They were puzzled.  “That’s the only reasonable explanation for that loud, that fast, isn’t it?  The other explanation is total, utter contempt and rejection of the Latin Family and everything it stands for, but I know you well enough to know that’s not true.”  At various times over the next hour or so, we talked about self-management and self-control, about how representatives from the College Of Your Choice would have reacted if they’d seen and heard N, T, and U.  It was a big wave, and a potential wipeout, but we made it through … and I’m hoping N, T, U, and the others have a deeper sense of how your actions send powerful messages.  N, T, and U even re-filmed the final scene of their Major Assessment video to give B a role … though B, who had very deliberately fallen asleep on filming day, probably wasn’t as happy to receive this boon as N, T, U, and their friends were to offer it.

The advanced group had a similar struggle later on.  “I’m really concerned,” I told them, “because I’m seeing a pattern here.  Far too many Latin Family members over the years have thought they were ready for college, have gone off to good colleges, and have ended up on academic probation, or flunking out, or both.  Why?  Because they won’t manage themselves … and there’s always an excuse, but the pattern and the results are clear.”  To their credit, J, U, B, E, and J didn’t apologize, but they did start fixing the problem.  “Have you noticed,” U asked me, “that we’ll have really good days and not so great days?”  Yes, I told her, and that’s important to realize.  But it’s also important to remember that the true test of character is how you respond to those not so great days.

Ms. X and Mr. Y probably know that intellectually, but they’re “too busy” with “too much to cover” to let those important lessons be learned.  Besides, yelling and labeling, with a dose or two of scolding and threatening, “always worked” before, didn’t it?  “So why change?” One Ms. X asked me once, years ago, in genuine puzzlement.  Did it actually work? I asked her.  “Well, I’m here,” she said.  No waves of change disturbed That Ms. X’s placid world view, and new techniques rarely troubled her old, familiar lesson plans.  “I just hope They don’t adopt a new textbook series,” she’d say ever five years, back when money was available for schools in These Parts to replace textbooks regularly.  “I would hate to have to change all my lesson plans and tests!”

But no matter how much she might have hated it, change keeps coming, just like waves themselves … and while you can ignore the little ones and keep playing on the beach, you do need to keep an eye out for the big ones.  A joyful learning community isn’t a perfect structure, of course, and it doesn’t have to be … but it does allow its participants to notice the incoming waves and respond with less panic, less terror, than poor Ms. X and Mr. Y tend to feel.   On this busy Tuesday, also April Fool’s Day with all that can entail in a group of teenagers, and with “Out of This World Wednesday” coming up (“Dress up like an alien, an alien hunter, or a planet” the directions say!), I wonder what new insights and discoveries await us all.

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Published in: on April 1, 2014 at 10:35 am  Leave a Comment  

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