Friday, June 28, 2013

Smooth And Magical

I enjoy teaching our summer sessions, but it's not like teaching regular school. It's challenging, I suppose, in that most of the kids who show up are children I didn't previously know, or who I only see during the summer, but at the risk of sounding cocky, that's one of my strengths: getting kids on my bandwagon (or maybe it's the other way around). What makes it most unlike the regular school year is that the enrollment turns over every couple of weeks, leaving us with an entirely different mix of kids. It's like the first weeks of school, over and over again.

Parents use the word "magical" a lot when talking about our summer sessions, enthusing about how "smoothly" things are going, how well everyone seems to get along, how few tears there are. And all of this is true, but not because of anything I do, although I continue to get credit which people won't let me deflect, so I've stopped trying. You see, we never really get to the hard part of being together, the part where agendas and personalities and expectations start clashing, and maybe that's what summer ought to be about, but a key part of what makes our school our school is missing during these lazier months.

Yesterday, I posted a piece on teaching individual children, on meeting them where they are, meeting them as who they are, and how we, as teachers, try to connect with them. That's the stuff I've been up to this last month, but since 2 week sessions are hardly long enough to build a real community, it all gets to feel smooth and magical because no one really get comfortable enough for the icky stuff to come up.

Community is always forged through conflict, or rather by working through those conflicts and coming to agreements about how we're going to live together. Two weeks, six 2-1/2 hour sessions really, is simply not enough time to create conventions, a culture, a common history, and the bonds that motivate us to work through the tears and pain, to make it not just a place for us, but for all of us. It takes that long just to get your sea legs under you, to get to figure out this silly man named Teacher Tom, to learn a few of the other kid's names, to understand what we do when the drum sounds or someone calls, "Last call for snack!" Sure, we bump up against the other people, or they use the things we want to use, or they stand or sit where we want to sit, but without a community it's just conflict, something to handle, then from which to move on.

Coming off of our very first slate of summer sessions four years ago, a project that was largely run by a core group of committed parents, we entered the regular school year on a kind of high. It had all been so smooth and magical that we, I think, assumed we'd turned some sort of corner as a community, that from now on  things were going to be smooth and magical. Then we ran smack into reality. Our October parent meeting was tense as it was becoming clear that divisions had arisen between the "summer parents" and another group who, at bottom, I think, felt left out. It took us a lot of hard work, tears, the rest of the school year to pull our parent community back together. Since then, we've made a point of taking a little break between the end of our summer sessions and the regular school year to give the summer parents a chance to slow down a little because the process of building a community -- be it adults or children or both -- is one that takes the kind of time that we don't have in the summer.

So yes, I'm enjoying this summer so far, engaging children, playing with them, maybe helping with a little separation anxiety, then sending them off a few days later to other things. I'm not complaining about things being smooth and magical, of course, but I know it's a vacation from the real work that begins again next fall.

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