And then everything changed.
Day Two of our professional development segued from information downloading and resource organizing to more of a work session—the teachers finally got to dig in to the curriculum materials and begin doing some planning.
My room was focused on a Grade 9 civics course, custom developed to focus on local history and issues as a way to engage kids as they transition to high school and help them feel a part of something larger than themselves. The course is titled “Be the Change,” from Gandhi’s quote, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”
As the teachers began to put the pieces together and see how traditional civics was being married to project-based learning and supported by a number of supplemental resources supplied by interesting and interested non-profit organizations, they began to get excited. Suddenly, yesterday’s affectless and self-involved drones became animated and committed teachers again. They began to plan, and share, and argue. But instead of arguing about accountability or assessment or being forced to change, they were arguing about the right things:
“This project about revising the student code of conduct--what are they really supposed to do with it? I mean, be honest.”
“Look at page two—they’re supposed to submit their proposed changes to the school board.”
“But that’s ridiculous; no one’s going to take them seriously.”
“You don’t know that.”
“The district really wants this course to work—they’re going to support it. It’s our job to make them support it..”
“But listen—look—every single ninth grader in the city is going to be submitting proposals? That’s crazy.”
“And hard to ignore.”
“Even if the board cared, which they won’t, it takes years to get anything changed around here. They’ll be seniors by the time anything they asked for gets adopted. It’s just going to make the kids cynical.”
“It doesn’t have to. It’s actually a great teachable moment, if that happens—it helps show that change is slow out in the real world—that not everything is instant gratification, but that slow doesn’t mean non-existent.”
“And even if none of the changes are adopted—hell, that’s real world too. Maybe it will discourage some of the kids, but at least it’s honest.”
“And then…and then...you know what else we could do? Listen…”
And then there was this exchange:
“You’re asking us to teach [Famous Local Labor Strike X] in the fourth week, using Internet resources, but I’ve never taught U.S. History—I’m not sure I know enough, and it’s coming up so soon…”
“Hey, I teach right down the hall, and I’ve taught U.S. History for years. Buy me a coffee some day after school, I’ll get you up to speed.”
“That would be great. But you know what would be even better? You come teach my class that day.”
“I’ll do that if you help me set up the debate next week, because I’ve never done of those that worked, and I know you do Model U.N.”
“I can do that.”
Which was followed quickly by:
“You know what we ought to do? We ought to set up a Yahoo Group or something. Now that we’re all going to be doing the same thing, it’s crazy not to be talking to each other.”
“Yeah, I’m hearing all all these great ideas today, but we don’t get to see each other all that often. I don’t want to lose this.”
“It’ll make it easy to post comments or suggestions, or questions for each other.”
“Share lesson plans…”
“Ideas for field trips…”
And on and on it went.
I tell you, it filled my little heart with joy. No lie. It’s worth all the crap we go through, all the negativity, all the politics, all the defeatism. It really is. To see just this much change—just this much engagement and collaboration and…hope—to see just one teacher move from a world-weary “My kids can’t do this” to an excited “I think this will work,” and to know that something great is going to be happening in the classroom.
Ah, that blasted hope. Just when you’re ready to give up, a single taste is enough to lift you up and keep you going.
It’s a curse.