Today was spectacular. The Middle-Years kids laughed. The Middle-Years kids stayed behind after class like they owned the place!
See, Tuesday was our first day together. I’ve not been with the M.Y. crew for a year. Oh, sure, a few of the kids know me. They were in my Arts Ed class two years ago when they were part of group of kids who taught pre-service teachers about student-led learning. These same kids were the group who created installation art, braking away from their classmates, visiting the Dean of Education’s Office, and leaving a wee sculpture resting on someone’s desk!
But Tuesday the entire group sat frozen. While some might like the idea of sensing fear within their students, this is not me! Afterwards, at the staff table, I nearly cried. And I sulked all evening!
Most of the students I teach are high school kids, and I am comfortable among them. Yet at the same time, I have ached for our middle-years kids.
That first day, with three grades together, four subjects wrapped-up into an hour a day, every time I shifted or began to speak, the room fell deeper into what felt an irretrievable silence.
They were scared. Oooh!
The second day I tried to ease us into our first project, and though the kids were trilled to be up and moving about the room, it was still me leading.
I teach in a small school, and sometimes it is easy to overlook the stresses that jumping into the higher grades and/or spaces brings. Though for the kids I teach, the higher grades might simply mean a stroll of forty feet, the journey is real. The change is profound.
There is a great deal of pressure in the elementary-high school shift, metaphorical or tangible. I tell all our kids I want them to leave happier then when they arrived to school in the morning. For the first two days of this new year, our M.Y. kids did not leave with joy.
About 40 minutes into today’s lesson, I had had enough. What walloped me in that moment was that I had recently taken a class where my learning needs, where my narrative had been silenced.
If I can help it, I will listen!
I asked everyone to drop what they where doing. I asked our kids to join me in a circle.
What’s our question?
Why is this important?
How would you like to go about figuring this out?
To my left a student said he’d like to think with rock climbing.. I said that sounded thrilling! Then, the room exploded.
Their homeroom teacher had told me they where excited to be hanging with me. If I had stopped long enough to listen to them, to remember their stories, to recall that they are experts at leading the way (in the circle discussion today the group talked about race &privilege, and began to critique how whiteness affects them ) and stopped trying to teach them we might not have waisted two and a half days!
The lunch bell rang and the kids where making plans. Outside, the senior kids had to wait, their space had been changed!
The best part: A grade seven student had sat red-eyed hunched over for most of the three days. All of a sudden she was beaming! Here were smiles and words and questions and joys! She asked if she could bring her tablet to our class…
She asked three more times making certain I was telling the truth. She smiled as she left the room. Our room, chairs in disarray, no one in assigned spots, excited to jump into different and difficult discovery.