Tis the Season . . . For Class Disruptions!

I know my title is teaching and learning.  And I know that every teacher worth their salt cares deeply about EVERY SINGLE SECOND they are allocated for class time.  We have so much to cover! NEVER enough time! The kids seem like they need longer to get it, too. And so much time is spent in unexpected “let’s just hurry up and grow up”  kinds of things. So many admonitions needing to be called out for the second-fifth-millionth time, needing to be said that I never anticipated. “Don’t throw that marker at the board to hear the cool click noise.”  “No, Johnny, you can’t get in your friend’s personal space.” “Can we talk after class about that instead?” I have probably never sat in an honest-open company of any faculty member ever: from my earliest memory of my dad fuming about lost class time with his masters electrical engineer students to my most recent department chairs meeting, in which the plague of class disruptions was not a main theme of conversation.

I want to be clear.  You are not wrong.  We do this work because we think it matters.  And things that matter need time.  And intentional, well structured, well planned time.  Not the kind that is randomly disrupted here or there.  Advocating for that time is a key role of any conscientious faculty member.

But I also want to take a minute to share a dirty secret.  And that is that I think that much of what sets our school apart from other school communities is what happens outside of class time.  I want to say that although I think a whole lot about curriculum and instruction and content and learning, I also think that the things that stick with us are often tied to those moments of anxiety-inducing disruptions. And I think THOSE things are also learning, that learning is in the remembering of lines in a play and the improvisation when you forget, the communication of teammates on the soccer field, the tuning of your instrument alongside those of your peers, the moment at the museum or the zoo or the exhibit where you are touched and learn something anew, that time on the bus when you notice some friends treating someone unkindly and you figure out what to do next. Or, as our Science Lecture Hall word-mural reminds us: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” (John Dewey). 

It naturally follows that to reduce “learning that matters” to just the content in our academic classes is absurd.  To assume that nothing of importance happens in those “things that disrupt” is equally absurd.  Think of all that is contained in:

The plays.

The performances.

The sporting events.

The field trips!

The chapels!

The competitions!

The international trips!

The community engagement and service!

The cultural celebrations!

The yearly assortment of five billion other school events!

I also have this belief, which you can take or leave.  I think the things that we roll our eyes at, the disruptions that make us most angry . . . they can give us some pretty not-so-subtle cues about what we prioritize and what we de-legitimate.  Notice I didn’t put pep rally in my list of things I love above.  This is gonna show my bias.  As a student, I hated pep rallies. I felt like they were for the popular kids, not for the band-drama-honors class nerds.  I wanted to shrink into my bleacher and the noise was seriously over-stimulating for me.  I’m still scared of them at our beloved SA’s.  I hug the wall with fellow faculty members. I appreciate how they give our cheer and dance teams a chance to perform, to be fair. But truth be told, when I see that yet another Friday schedule in October is going to be disrupted for yet another pep rally, I have to check myself and the wave of annoyance I feel rising up.  Because for many students, this is the highlight of their week.

One last note.  If you, like me, find yourself bristling at every moment stolen from you with your students in your classroom, I recommend you consider the following:  

  • Is it possible that other adults in our community could also pour good things into your students? 
  • Will students actually remember the lesson you were going to teach, like the content of it (e.g. fractals or the intricacies of that particular political party) a year from now? 
  • What value does routine have? What value does switching up a routine have?

Growing up I remember a reminder from my church to “make room for Jesus in the busy flurry of the holiday season.” Perhaps in this spirit we can also make room for the possibility that some of the disruptions that most frustrate us (Julie Rust- pep rallies!) might actually hold a core kernel of value for our community and the growth of our students.  I think we can all agree class time does indeed matter. And most of the time, perhaps all of the time, so does the other stuff.  

Let’s all keep fighting for time for students to experience things that matter.  

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