It’s 4th period, the end of the day, and there are just a lot of kids in a small-ish space. It was the first week, we were all exhausted, the AC was broken at the school on Friday, and the class felt like it was fracturing into a million pieces. These are honors-level kids, so they have more patience than a lot of HS Ss would, but they still have their issues. They are still 16 and impatient. They are still very interested in grades and not so interested in learning anything, and they still equate “I learned a lot” with “I was very entertained by my teacher’s lecture and he gave me an A.”
Confession for the day: I struggle with making a space for whole-group discussions in my class that aren’t centered on me.
So now, the next step is trying to build a whole class culture where students can talk to each other as humans, and not just to me. I want a class that will run like clockwork whether I'm there or not--I don't want it to be predicated on me as the center point. My challenge is teaching them to facilitate discussions that I don’t need to be a part of, because we can’t really do a good English flipclass without both threads in place: true student-centered classrooms demand that the kids have good relationships with the teacher, certainly; but they also have to be able to talk to each other.
Thankfully, as with seemingly everything in our collaborative partnership, Cheryl has far less practice in 1-to-1, individualized instruction, but is a grandmaster at leading whole class conversations. People who know us from the #flipclass chat will notice that we divide the moderation responsibilities up according to our strengths: she asks the questions and monitors the big picture/conversation arc; I spend my time interacting with individuals directly and bringing them into the conversation.
But the point is that building a classroom culture in a room with that many kids is really difficult for me. They are still stuck in a mindset of figuring out what the teacher wants and giving it to him and getting an A is what it’s all about. But they won’t even talk to each other. We’ve tried class discussions this first week, and they have robustly failed. Class discussions so far have been pockets of Ss talking to each other and, when we’ve come together as a class, a few kids trying to get participation points slash one-up each other. There’s a lot of work to do to get them to talk TO each other instead of AT each other.
Conversation skills aren’t about showing off. They’re about being able to look another person in the eyes and hear what they’re saying, to be able to know them well enough to have a pretty good idea what they’re not saying, and be able to build a collaborative mountaintop of ideas in that interplay.
So here I am, at the end of the first week, scared as always that it’s not going to get there. I know it will eventually, and that it’s only one week, but we only have 85-ish more days together-- the classroom community is a sacred place to me, and the fear that we won’t get to that good place drives me every semester to find the key to unlock it. It’s a rare and beautiful thing when it happens; for me, it can never happen enough.