We are all swimming, desperately trying to keep up with the pace of the water, until that crest is almost within reach...so we swim faster, try to keep our head up, barely a breath away from drowning. Students, teachers, administrators, staff members...all of us, together.
But although it feels like the ocean, when we look up, we realise that we're in a wave pool, not the ocean. And we're the ones controlling the waves.
So we complain about being exhausted, frantic, unable to keep up, while we dial up the intensity of the waves in the pool. Worse yet, we look around at our colleagues and see them swimming faster than us, so we turn up the intensity a little bit more just so we don't fall behind them too.
But the end result is that we all drown. Or we wish that we HAD drowned so we could stop grading papers, get a few more hours of sleep, just BE with our friends and family without thinking about all the prep left to do.
So, to ask my buddy's favourite question, who are we really serving here?
I had two kids burst into tears (unrelated to my class) on Tuesday. Neither wanted to talk about it. Neither wanted to ask for anything special - not even a pass to the restroom. They wanted to tough it out, be strong, keep on going.
Why? Because they assume that THEY are the problem. They assume that everyone else can just handle the load - everyone else can stay up until 4 AM doing homework every night for weeks, participate in sports and extracurriculars, stay awake and engaged in school, make it through the minefield that is high school social life.
They assume that real life is what happens after high school. They are there to "pay their dues" before they go on to do what they really love. They've been told "Be Awesome in Everything OR YOU'RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH."
And when they can't be awesome in everything, the only thing left is the belief that they aren't good enough. And when we don't replace that erroneous narrative, it only embeds itself more fully into their psyche. When they believe that they are nothing more than a letter on a report card - a letter that is never, ever good enough - how can we possibly expect them to act as responsible, rational, creative, independent learners?
Because when students have always defined themselves based on what they do (and often, what they fail to do), they have no idea how to work in a class that asks them to somehow engage out of who they are.
All the things we flipclass'er believe in creating in our classroom: an emphasis on higher order thinking, self-directed learners who have a choice about content and product, students who value their education and work towards mastery of a concept instead of engaging the prevalent tendency towards point prostitution*...
...all those things are impossible when our students are fighting the pace of the waves that threaten to drown all of us.
And you know what? We can't be the kind of teachers we want when we live at that pace either.
Okay, here's my mea culpa: I am not the kind of teacher I want to be right now. I got scared. I bought into the culture of fear - when enough people tell you you're going to drown just like them, you eventually sigh in resignation, then try to push your tired arms into sprinting for just a few more lengths.
Like every other story I write on this blog, part of the answer is having someone to stand on the shore, waving a giant handmade sign that both encourages me to keep swimming, and reminds me that the power to turn down the wave is in my control.
Someone who reminds me that who I am is good enough, even when I feel like I'm barely mustering a C. Someone who burns my report card because what we're trying to do is not something that is measured in letters.
No. What we're doing is measured more in the number of students for whom an hour a day in my room is more of a refuge than a deluge. It's measured in visible improvement in writing. It's measured in academic conversations that take on a life of their own. It's measured in the students who stop asking about their grade, and stop defining themselves by the letter that appears on their report card.
It's measured in transformation.
And there's not a standardised test in transformation.
But nothing and no one can be transformed when the wave pool is drowning us all.
So for now, I'm turning down the speed and inviting my students to do the same. Some people probably think they'll start floating and take advantage of it, or without me to push them, they'll just abdicate responsibility for swimming and they'll drown.
But you know what? I think that who they are is good enough.
And I hope that who I am, and who we are, is good enough to help them when they forget that they are not defined by a letters: the ones that appear on a report card or ones that arrive in the mail from their dream school, their safety school, their last chance school.
And maybe someday, we will all finally decide to leave the false safety of the wave pool for good, and head to the Real Ocean.
The Real Ocean is where Real Life happens, and the waves can't be controlled.
It's where our students will try to swim on their own, probably for the first time. Where letters don't matter.
And where Who They Are is all there is.
Who is with me?
*thanks to my flipclass friend, GS Arnold, who coined the term in a recent #flipclass chat