Every morning, she walks down the hall saying the same thing. Our eighth-grade school counselor’s mantra is, “It’s going to be a great day!” We teachers all smile at her and nod affirmingly or make a snide comment with a smile — “Not with this headache” or some similar thought — and move into our day without giving it another thought. While she does mean it — she certainly wishes we all have a great day — it’s also become somewhat of a running joke as well. She’ll look at what’s going on in the hallway, some kind of drama or other, raise her eyebrows, turn to the nearest teach and repeat, “It’s going to be a great day.”
Some days she’s prophetic: some days turn out really well. They have to — it’s the nature of teaching to have the bad but also the good, that which drew idealistic people into the profession to begin with. We all have visions of changing the world, one child at a time, of promoting self-confidence in this student, of helping that student discover latent talent. We know the statistics. We know some of the stories trailing behind our students. And we’re there to help. That’s the idealistic vision of teaching that we all cling to.
Yet even in the seemingly brightest days, there’s a kid who refuses to work, a boy who brings in some baggage from a hallway interaction and disrupts the class, a girl who is still stewing over some injustice, perceived or real, suffered in the previous class. It’s good, but it’s never perfect. How could it be? It seems for a perfect day, everyone involved in our classroom routines would need to be having perfect days as well, or at least extremely good days.
That’s the thought anyway, for such days are so rare that I think we teachers sometimes even forget they exist. The other days seem to crowd out everything else, and at one point or another, we teachers, each and every one, have found ourselves standing in our classroom, loo out our window, wondering if we need to get out of the profession. We smile at each other in the hallway during these days and say things like, “I feel like today, if I’d just stayed home and bashed my head into the wall for eight hours, I’d have more to show for it.”
And then the stars align, the kids smile, and every kid in every class is, to some degree or other, productive. First period, a traditionally tough period for me, slides by without me even realizing the class period is about to end, and the kids, with their pencils scribbling during our Friday writing/workshop session, don’t realize it either. Kids who just Monday mounted a virtual mutiny in class. But today, they’re writing, conferencing with each other, focused. Working.
Second period comes, and everyone is busy, working on stories for the school web site or creating audio stories, heading out to interview this teacher or get information from that administrator. On the best days, the class feels like a newsroom must, and that’s a good thing, for next year, the course will officially be rebranded: “Journalism.”
Third period — a planning period — arrives, and with it, a call from the principal with a simple question about next year that just brings a smile to my face.
Fourth period, and the kids all work marvelously in groups, piecing together a rather complex argument in a rather long article, collaborating and learning at the same time. This is English I Honors, and I rarely have any issues with them, but some days, they’re just more productive than others. Today is such a day.
Fifth period, my most challenging, and everyone is writing, writing, writing. I’m sitting with a student, looking over his work, realizing that, out of seemingly nowhere, this kid’s writing has suddenly improved so drastically that it doesn’t even look like it could come from the same young man. Once again, I almost don’t realize that the class period is about to end, and neither do they.
Sixth period and we have a small epiphany about a passage in Lord of the Flies.
Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law.
It’s not a real epiphany, for I’d aligned everything for the kids to “arrive” at that realization. They were set up, but sometimes my set ups don’t work.
Seventh period — another planning period — and I cast a backward glance over my day and realize it’s the best day I’ve had in recent memory. Certainly the best day of this school year. Likely one of the top ten days I’ve ever had in the classroom: everyone productive, everyone cooperating, everyone working, everyone learning. I sit and analyze what happened that created such perfection. What did I do differently? How can I replicate this? Why don’t days like this more occur more frequently?
In the end, I realize once again the obvious: because so many people were involved today in creating such amazing day, I can’t possibly hope to recreate it on my own. It’s not what I did, it’s what we did. It’s not how I can replicate it, but how we can replicate it. It’s a frustrating realization, because it means that the power is both within me and out of my control. It brings to mind an analogy a colleague once made: teaching is like gardening. We prepare the soil, plant the seeds, we water the garden, and sometimes, we see the fruit, and sometimes we only hope that the seed will germinate at some later point.
But some days, like today, it seems like everything is sprouting.