Through Ups and Downs

Friday was definitely an up and down day.  Spirit Week at school is a thing we do because … we do it, and we “always” have, once in the fall and once in the spring.  “It promotes school spirit,” Ms. X and Mr. Y and Various Powers That Be like to say, “but those bad, lazy kids don’t actually follow the dress themes for each day, and nobody punishes them for it!”  Ms. X and Mr. Y are great believers in “school spirit” in the abstract, though they also complain bitterly about things like the spirit competitions and the relevant announcements that “get the kids all stirred up” and “waste so much time when I have so much to cover.”

The relatively few students who participate in the intramural volleyball and basketball games enjoy their brief moment of athletic glory, and so do the ad hoc cheerleaders.  As a “choice program,” the school doesn’t have “regular” sports teams because student-athletes compete on the teams of their neighborhood schools.  And if you do participate in the dress themes for each day, it can be a fun, though sometimes silly bonding experience.

But if you asked a “bad, lazy kid” who “didn’t actually follow the dress theme” on Out of This World Wednesday or Kings, Queens, and Peasants Thursday, what would he or she say about the whole thing?  I didn’t want to ask on the days themselves, but I’m wondering what will happen if there’s an opportunity sometime this week or next.  K, S, and C, for example, did dress up at least one day, but they’re quiet people who like to read and love creating high-quality stories about the Tres Columnae Project characters’ adventures.  And what about D, N, K, and E, who would much rather play Minecraft all day?

Factory-model schools, like all institutions full of people, are going to have ups and downs because that’s what happens when people come together.  But the factory-model approach, with its attempts to standardize everythingbrings a lot of additional ups and downs on itself.  “Be quiet, you bad, loud, lazy kids!” Ms. X screams … and not five minutes later, she’s yelling at her now-quiet class about how they “need to” participate more actively.  “Copy these notes exactly the way I wrote them,” warns Mr. Y … and then he’s upset because “those bad, lazy kids don’t have any creativity skills.  It must be Facebook and Twitter and those video games they play!”

In These Parts, Spring Break always “just happens” to be during Easter Week.  Normally Good Friday would be a holiday as well, but it’s become the last of so many weather makeup days.  So there are ten school days (“nine and a half,” Ms. X would correct me proudly, “because Good Friday is an early release day”) until that much-needed time of rest and recovery.  Participants in the online professional development course tell me that their elementary and middle schools have already started the review and reteaching process for the upcoming Big State Tests, which is probably why Ms. X and Mr. Y are upset about their “bad, lazy student shutting down and not doing any work.”  If that was the rhythm for eight or nine years, it’s hard to make a sudden change, to encounter new stuff at the time when you’re “supposed to” be mindlessly working back through the old stuff you understood perfectly well the first time … or, if you didn’t understand it the first time, to try desperately to figure out just enough to do OK on the Big State Test, which is what Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y spent hours drilling into you Back Then.

Ups … and downs.  Even if there’s a Big, Important Measure of the work of a Joyful Learning Community, as there is for my upper-level students who are reading the AP Latin syllabus, it’s somehow less scary when you’re working as a community rather than as a bunch of individuals or some data points within a class.  As an individual or a data point, your voice is rarely heard and your needs and desires don’t matter; what matters is “Ms. X’s scores” or “Mr. Y’s lesson plan” or The Pacing Guide.  But even if there is a desired pace, as there is for those two groups in the advanced class, somehow building a community makes the pace both more achievable and less of an issue.  Of course we’ll read everything on time, because we have a shared goal of success … but we also have many other shared goals, like enjoying the journey and really deepening our understanding of the language, the culture, and the literature.

We’ll be trying out some new learning and reading structures this week, things that will help everybody (especially in the beginning and intermediate groups) with focus and execution at what can be a scattered, difficult, up and down time of the year.  But we’ll also be drawing on the resources of community that we’ve been building all along.  At the start of a full, busy week, that seems oddly hopeful … more up than down at a time of year when the downs can seem massive.

I wonder what other ups, downs, and insights will appear in the days and weeks ahead!

Published in: on April 7, 2014 at 10:41 am  Leave a Comment  

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