I’m trying this March Slice of Life Challenge again. Oddly, I’m more apprehensive about it this year than last. Maybe last year I was naive. This year I know how spent I was by the end of last March. I think part of my nervousness is that I know how hard it has been for me to even achieve the once-a-week challenge recently. Well, it hasn’t just been hard. The truth is, I’ve failed. I’ve made something like eight blog entries since the beginning of the year…the school year.
But I’m determined to get back into a routine, and perhaps the month-long challenge will be like the defibrillator, the big jolt to get me back into writing mode.
I’m sitting with my class. I’m toward one end of an oval next to the easel (we don’t fit in a circle in my room this year, so several students have insisted that I not say “Circle up,” but instead say “Oval up”). We’re trying to write our class charter. It’s September, and I don’t know the students well. Part of me wonders whether when I ask, “How do you want to feel in class this year?” my fifth graders will roll their eyes or give the aggressively audible yawn. I don’t enjoy those responses, but I know that the same question asked a few decades ago (scores ago?) might have drawn that response from me. Equally frustrating might be the bland responses.
“How do you want to feel in class this year?”
“Mmm hmm, can you elaborate a little?”
In short, as I open my mouth to begin the discussion, I am prepared for the worst. I know this is not a healthy posture for a teacher. I know I should always expect wisdom, creativity, or originality, but this is me. I default to what I dread. Still, I ask the question.
“How would you like to feel in class this year?”
“Respected,” one student offers.
“Appreciated,” another adds.
“Worthy,” a third suggests.
Later, when we’ve accumulated an impressive list of at least 20 words that are way better than the “good” or “nice,” that I had feared, I ask a harder question. “If we had to narrow this list down to five words, which of these do you think need to be on our list?” And the fun begins. Again, I have a fear that the kids will just insist on their own words, maybe pouting or sulking if their words don’t make the cut. Wrong again, oh fearful one.
“I think respected and appreciated are kind of the same. If you appreciate someone, then you must respect them.”
“Yeah,” another student counters, “that’s true, but just because you respect someone, that doesn’t mean you actually appreciate them. I think they’re different.”
Later still, a student adds, “I don’t really agree with having ‘successful’ as one of our words. I mean, we can’t always be successful. Look at that sign.” He points to a quote I have on my wall and reads it. “ ‘I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that do not work.’ See, a lot of times we won’t be successful, but that doesn’t mean we’re failing. I don’t think we need to feel successful all the time in this class.”
So, one pleasant thing about expecting the worst is that sometimes out of the gloom comes the wonder. I realized at that moment that this charter might take a while, but that the conversation would make it worthwhile.
My anti-success student didn’t win his argument in September, but in December, when we revisited our words to revise them, he “succeeded” in convincing the class to replace “successful” with “accomplished.” “Sometimes,” he said, you can lose a game in the finals, but you still feel ‘accomplished.’” The class concurred. In the beginning was the word…but then we revised.