OK, OK. Today was the worst, the really worst class ever. The morning class was great, but this afternoon. Phew. It was the same project. The same material but whoa. No engagement. Was it me? Was it all of us? I’m thinking a bus driver might be the career choice for me. Straight-forward. Literal. You have the money you get on. You don’t have the money, you can’t get on.
We are reading Fahrenheit 451. We have finished it in fact. I had broken the class into groups and given each an allusion that appears in the book. The group was to find the context of the allusion, figure out and explain its meaning, and then connect the allusion to the larger ideas and themes in the book. Then each group was to present their findings to the rest of us.
The morning was awesome. In fact, sometimes the kids took the allusions way further than they needed to but these extended journeys were reflective of their enthusiasm and imaginations.
What happened to the presentations and participation this afternoon? The kids repeated each other, not going any further or deeper than they felt they had to. There was little engagement. They totally skimmed the surface like we were citizens in the land of Fahrenheit 451 itself. Some comments were so convoluted that I lost the thread of what students were trying to say. Some comments wandered so far from the text I thought we had ventured into a totally different novel. Even my own attempts at helping to redirect the discussion were lame and uninspired. GF and BT kept poking each other. GS kept leaning on her neighbor’s shoulder. BL played a rubber band stretched across his chin. Perhaps I was way too tired. Maybe the looming of winter break has us all unhinged. This afternoon, class was a train wreck.
Alright, Context–I know that the dynamic of students in each class makes a huge difference. I know that. I know that the time of day and the time of year have enormous effect on the temperament and focus of students (and teacher). It’s hard to sustain focus and energy for a whole semester. Sometimes kids (and teacher) just get tired. I know that Fahrenheit 451 can be a very challenging read for 8th graders, especially around issues of conceptualization and abstract thinking.
Explanation— The students were definitely not their best, not sharing their most scholarly selves, unable to harness their energies to an activity that seemed out of reach for some, irrelevant to others. The fact that there was not outright protest and rebellion actually speaks to their willingness to play the game, but it was without vesting any piece of their real hearts. They were not comfortable in dealing with this challenging task. It required some hard work that they were somehow unable to muster the energy for today. Oh yes and coming straight from lunch is not always the optimum time for a class.
Connection— I know the students can do better than this. I have seen their spark and bright engagement many times before. The good news is that there is tomorrow. In teaching there is always the next day, another opportunity to re-evaluate, re-inspire, re-engage, re-invest. There is always another opportunity to get it right.
Like the phoenix in Fahrenheit, we will rise again.