It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and in These Parts, that means food. A Special Lunch today, another on Wednesday, breakfast “goodies” on Tuesday and Thursday, and another special meal on Friday, in fact, for Ms. X, Mr. Y, the rest of our colleagues, and me. It’s also the first week of AP Exams, and the reporting period ends on Tuesday … and there are Very Important Visitors scheduled for Tuesday, too, which prompted a lengthy email of Important Reminders about things people need to “comply with.” And The Prom, with all its excitement and emotional drama, was on Saturday, and the calendar is full of performances, end-of-year banquets for organizations, and all the other markers of the end of the academic year.
That got me thinking about appreciation, a topic I know I’ve addressed in posts like this one and this one from around this time last year. In lots of schools (and not just in schools), there seems a tremendous faith in the power of doing stuff right, or at least looking like you’re doing stuff right at certain times. “If we just feed Those Teachers, they’ll surely feel appreciated!” Many Powers That Be seem to believe. “But we don’t have any money, and there’s not enough time and too much to cover, etc. What to do?” So the student government, the PTA, and other groups are half-requested, half-instructed to appreciate those teachers by buying food or trinkets for them; the food is consumed; the trinkets are received; perfunctory thanks are given; and Ms. X and Mr. Y go back to business as usual, as do the student organizations, the PTA members, and the Powers That Be.
It’s the first Monday of the month, with a scheduled faculty meeting this afternoon. I wonder what the balance will be between words of appreciation and business as usual, and I wonder if Ms. X and Mr. Y will be feeling appreciated or put upon when they leave. For all their faith in the power of doing stuff right and following That Lesson Plan, Ms. X and Mr. Y are oddly unresponsive when stuff is done right for them (or to them), but it doesn’t seem to come from the heart.
I’d forgotten the story of Ms. X and the biscuits, the one I told in this post from last May, until I re-read it this morning. But it struck me, on re-reading, that Ms. X’s “ungrateful” response (at least from the perspective of the Powers That Be who “did all that work” and sat in the long drive-through line to pick up the biscuits) isn’t all that different from the “ingratitude” of students who “got to” miss part of a class and receive some cheap ice cream as an “incentive” for high grades or good attendance or selling Stuff during the Big School-Wide Fundraiser Sale. When your heart isn’t involved in the work, it doesn’t matter how technically well done the work is, does it?
As I sat down to write this post, I “just happened” to find Laura’s Google+ share of this piece from Etale which, in turn, is a response to Christopher Emdin’s TED talk about “creating magic in the classroom.” Learn to “enthrall and teach at the same time,” Emdin encourages his audience, by studying the work of Pentecostal preachers, rappers, and the guys at the barbershop who can hold everyone’s attention with their stories. But wait! Professor Bull responds, the “magic” comes not just from what the teacher does but from what the learners do. And the first comment on his post takes the conversation yet deeper with the observation that “it’s the story itself rather than the telling of it that holds most of the magic.” That led me to think of this article about why and how history “should” be taught in the absence of high-stakes, content-focused tests, and of the rich Google+ discussion about it where it quickly became clear that our own stories and contexts were powerfully shaping our responses.
Stories and contexts. The heart and the actions. There’s a complex set of factors involved in the ways we see, hear, and respond to each other, and this thread about Tiffany Shlain’s short film “The Science of Character” brought up some additional powerful connections. As we work to build and sustain joyful learning communities, it’s important to take time to appreciate each other’s unique perspectives and contributions … and it’s important to remember that what looks and feels like appreciation to me may look and feel entirely different to somebody else.
I wonder what other new insights, new discoveries, and new things to appreciate await us all today!