Sunday, January 4, 2015

More Joy...Less Stress

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is carrying a great burden." Philo, 1st Century.
"I grow old.  I grow old.  I will wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled."  T.S.Eliot

School is back in session tomorrow.  With one semester ended and new courses beginning, it is deja vu all over again: first day of school.

The last post described my schizophrenic existentialism.  Survival mode means focusing on the details of the day and ignoring the larger picture as much as possible--which includes ignoring the utter lack of interest and passion among the seniors.  Age?  Or 12 years of testing mania at play?

My mantra for the fall was: "If nothing else, we are going to have some fun."  So....lots of smiling, laughing.

That is an old person's prerogative: just let the little things go.  We don't care so much anymore.  The trousers will be rolled.  Your paper is late?  No sweat.  We will work on a way to git 'er done.  Fell asleep in class?  You must be uber tired.  Sleep is probably better than what is going on right now. No breakfast?  Here's a granola bar.  Screw the no food, no drink rule.

Highlights from the fall where I was completely unaccountable and did not do my job collecting data and leading from the front of the room:

  • Getting the chance to really get to know my students while wandering around the city library on a field trip.  Exploring the building, talking about favorite places to eat, laughing at the name of the old guy in the painting (it is a funny name).  You know, just talking?
  • Joining in on a technically inappropriate joke in class.  But, hey, it was hilarious.
  • Letting the kids interview me as practice before their interviews with other adults.  Talk about engagement.  Everybody sat up straight and joined in that day.  (This should tell us something about how kids want to interact with the grown-ups. They think we are kind of interesting.)  I gave honest answers. They mostly wanted to know what it was like when I was young, how I met my husband, stuff like that.  No one asked me about grammar....
  • Helping the kids develop the questions for our British literature study.  (Again, not doing my job.) They were given the topic: The Evolution of the English Language.  They came up with doozies: What is English? Why do other languages borrow from English? When and where was the English language created? How was it influenced (and how frequently)?  How old is the English language?  How long did it take to develop?  How many countries and people speak English? We hung the questions up.  They knew the answers later.
  • Putting kids in groups to read and share their own writing.  Many highlighted this as their favorite exercise.  They learned without me...
  • Dancing to a students' rap music played through his phone until he was so disturbed by my old lady, white girl moves that he put the phone away (trousers rolled).  That's another day when I can say that every student was fully engaged...and laughing.  I didn't write him up.
  • Watching kids explain their work to their parent/grandparent/guardian sometimes in Spanish or Bulgarian, on a conference night where I did not lead the conference. Don't I wish I spoke more than one language like so many of my students....?
  • Hearing a student share a poem (written in 7 minutes) and enjoying the snapping and applauding from the kids after...followed by an instant evaluation: "You need to put that in the creative writing magazine!"  Who needs a gradebook? Who needs a teacher?
  • The day we wrote about someone we were grateful to have in our lives. And then called them. And read it to them.  That assignment was never turned in.

So much of school is not kind.

We tend to rule from a deficit model:  start with 100 and take away whatever is not there.  We measure what you're missing, not what you came with.

We hold everyone to the same due date (for fairness) when what goes on outside and inside school is not really fair.

We sort kids into groups and everyone knows who the Bluebirds are.  We make the same rules that everyone must follow.  We ask everyone to pass the same (stupid) tests.

But some kids have more access than others.  Some have more support than others.  Some have more healthy food than others.  Why does school always have to have these "fair" rules when everywhere else the scales are tipped?

We'd be better off teaching and modeling some empathy or, perhaps, how to have some fun everyday.

Mantra for the spring:  "If nothing else, we are going to have some fun...."