Bricks, Waves, Waging War

21 Sep

“And here comes a wave. Here comes a wave. And here comes another wave.” –The Decemberists

Not every day is perfect. I have received two sage nuggets of wisdom, early on in my career, that I like to share with new teachers. “Not every day is perfect,” a wise man once told me, resting a hand on my shoulder. And another: “If you ever lose the ability to laugh with these kids, hang up the clipboard and walk away. You’re done.”

Today was a calamity. And then there is this: as my fourth period walked out of class today (and let’s be super clear, “walked” is a tremendously generous adjective) I mumbled only loud enough for myself to hear, I thought, “Congratulations guys, you just provided me with the most frustrating 50 minutes of my career.” The response was universal. Literally almost every kid laughed and put a hand over his or her mouth, pointing out the others and claiming “He just violated y’all.” Everyone in the room was so blind to his part in the chaos, they were blaming someone else. Myself included.

I get a moment at the end of a long day to sit back and reflect, after venting and eating, and I see it: everyone is entitled to a bad day. Myself included. The handful of students who are typically great but were confrontational rude, and darn near despicable today, included. Today we all stunk.

The nice thing about working in education is it’s not really a career of streaks. Unlike athletics, economics, business, and even typical corporate jobs, things don’t trend neatly. The pattern and rhythm of schools are interrupted and changed and rock back and forth rapidly because there are too many people with too many different concerns, balancing too many different elements for every period or day or unit to follow the pattern of the one before it (regular readers know I refuse to accept the “school in a bubble theory”.) This means (and it is a blessing and a curse) the rhythm of schools is more like that of a pounding of waves than a smooth changing of tides. Had a great class? here comes a bad one! Had a rough day? here comes a great one! Just heard wonderful news? GET READY! Here comes a wave.

Todays number: 78. That is the percentage of students at my school who placed at an elementary reading level on entrance exams (6th grade or below). I knew and anticipated that number. And I chose not to handle it with kid gloves. I chose to swim against it. Our first book is the Iliad. I want my students to begin World Literature the way world literature began, despite that number. Maybe it was a tragic flaw. I hope not. Today’s lesson was on one of the major themes: “Free Will vs Predetermination.” While I tried to follow a pre-determined path, they exhibited their free will. GS this is borig. GS nobody cares today, it’s Friday. GS give me a pen and shut up. GS stop breathing or existing in real time and space, it’s bothering me. And so we clashed like the Greeks and the Trojans. Monday’s lesson? Conflict and resolution.

So get ready kids, Mr GS is breaking out the loud speakers for “Another Brick in the Wall” on Monday morning. Here comes another wave.

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