As I look back on my recent blog posts, I notice that while I briefly touch on what kind of school I teach at, there isn’t much in there about the actual students. Sure, all of the collected speech comes from my students, but there’s something wrong with the way those words are floating free, anchored to nothing, no body out of which they came. Maybe that’s partially do to the fact that this is a public blog and the high school where I work has pretty strict privacy standards. So in one sense, a blog like this can’t replace a private journal. At least not in my case. But there’s another aspect to it. What I’m most interested in is ideas. I groove out to know that failing really does lead to better learning or that a certain level of background noise is optimal for lip reading. And I love to take these ideas into my classroom. But in all that clutter of ideas, maybe sometimes I’m not paying the kind of close attention to students that I should.
Today I did a “Make A Museum” class with my students. I thought it would be fun for all of us to put together a history museum of our school. So we wandered around the building and asked to borrow anything that caught our eye. We snagged a piggy-bank in the shape of a Rira-Kuma (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rilakkuma) from the principles desk, A bowl of goldfish out of room 302, the school’s name written in calligraphy on a faded scroll. We had a good haul. Two of the students, a first and a second year student, were laughing most of the time as they picked things up. Lets call the second year student Juri and the first year student Riki.
When we got back to the classroom with all our stuff, I passed out some examples of exhibit identification cards and curatorial comments. At this point Juri started to explain to everyone that the goldfish weren’t actually goldfish at all. They were actually the souls of graduated students. These students didn’t want to leave their high school behind them so they turned themselves into fish. Some students laughed. One student said it was a creepy idea. One student wrote it down on the identification card. And that is how our history museum turned into a museum of the strange and wonderful. The scroll with the school’s name became a “piece of ancient toilet paper found in a Chinese castle.” The wooden tops became, “Hypnotic Counseling Instruments to turn bad boys into good boys.”
At the end of the day most of the teachers had come through our museum. The students were guides and read the curatorial comments to the teachers. And the teachers laughed. Not out of obligation, but with the kind of surprised laugh you can’t fake. And I could see the pride the students were feeling in the way they guided the teachers to the next exhibit and the one after that. But then the chime for the last class rang. It was over.
Most of the students were pretty worn out and took off. But Juri stayed in the room. Juri always stays in the room. Tomorrow there’s an entrance exam, so all the students had to be out the door earlier than usual. Still, Juri took a long time to pack up her bag. Juri always takes a long time to pack up her bag. She thinks she forgot something, opens and closes pockets, finds what she is looking for, zips up the bag, unzips it again and starts the process over. Usually I watch her and think, “Why is she so slow? Why can’t she just pack up her stuff?” Most of the time as I wait for her to pack, I think. I think I am thinking about her, but actually, I am thinking about me. I am thinking about me waiting. Not today. Today, as Juri was
not getting ready to leave, I realized, as clearly as if she turned to me and said it in RP English, she loves school. She loves to be in school and she wants to stay in school as long as she can. So instead of waiting for her, I just talked to her while she was packing up. I told her how grateful I was that she had taken the activity to a whole new place. How much more interesting haunted goldfish were than humdrum history.
It was raining today in the city. Juri didn’t have an umbrella and she said she didn’t need one when I tried to give her one from the teachers’ room. Two years I’ve been teaching Juri. Two years and only today did I take the time to walk her to the door. So I think I’ve got a while to go when it comes to this reflective teaching thing. Wish me luck.