As I was getting ready to leave work today, a little early as I needed to pick up my son and get home to prepare for the first meeting of an online class I'm teaching, a really cool thing happened. I ended up walking out of the building like I was walking on a rainbow. It was just one of those things that happens that reminds you why you became a teacher, you know?
I want to tell you ALL about it. I thought to myself, "That was so amazing! Who can I tell?!?!" And then I realized I had two cool things like that happen today. No wait, three. Hang on, FOUR. So now I will tell YOU, blogosphere, about the four things that happened today that made me just LOVE what I do. *Names are changed to protect the identities of the awesome.
1. We've had a little bit of a rocky start getting going with MinecraftEDU in my Digital World class. Myriad technical difficulties meant it took us quite a few days to get everyone in the game together. And several of the students just really aren't into gaming at all, or Minecraft specifically. One of those students is Leslie*. She told me she wasn't loving it, but she wasn't ill-mannered about it. She expressed her frustration with the technical glitches and the challenges inherent in the gameplay itself with a polite exasperation in her voice. I told her it was really okay not to like it, and that I respected her honesty and willingness to trudge through it anyway.
Today something really fun happened. Leslie started investigating what her Minecraft lesson would be, she started experimenting and reading the Minecraft Wiki to come up with a topic to teach the rest of us. She stumbled across animals and I gave her some materials to start building a pen to contain her Mooshrooms (they're like cows with mushrooms on them . . . I don't get it either). Squeals of delight soon followed. And then I heard Leslie chastising a Mooshroom that had somehow escaped her enclosure. And she was really having fun and rising to the challenge, and my heart melted a little. Here was this young person who had gone from "I don't think I can do this" to "Hey, this is fun, and I am enjoying this, and I can handle the challenge" in a matter of moments, literally right before my eyes. (She was sitting directly across from me.)
2. Later this morning, as I sat at my desk, working away on my computer, I heard, as I often do, an English class on the other side of my wall. (Background info: two of my walls actually have doors that are no longer doors in them, between me and two neighboring English classrooms.) The discussions, orations, speeches, recitations, and game playing in the class next door frequently get loud enough for me to hear clearly. I don't mind, because I can tell that teacher has got some amazing, fun, student-centered learning going on in there. At this moment, though, I heard a young woman clearly sharing her opinion of a "vicious cycle" in life. (Understand that I work in an expensive, private independent high school where students are often pushed to achieve by everyone in their lives.)
She described how it seems like everyone just works like mad to get fantastic grades so they can get into the absolute perfect (read: Ivy League) college, so they can score a high-paying job, just so they can repeat the cycle for their own children. Even if that means denying their children a chance to do something they truly love and want to do. So I hopped out of my seat, scurried to the door, quickly opened the door to the classroom, stuck my head in and told them I could hear what she said from next door, and I thought it was AWESOME. Then I ducked out, came back with one of my baskets of candy, and offered some to the young lady who had been talking. Then I told the kids to pass it around, saying they could have candy too . . . if they agreed with her. And I told them to tell their friends, tell their parents, tell their friends' parents, tell their parents' friends. This girl's message was spot on. Then I went back to my office and tweeted about it. #CrazyThingIDid
3. This week is Japan Week and the Japanese National Honor Society has some fun foods and activities planned for each day of the week. Today, it was Japanese calligraphy outside our dining hall. As I walked out, one of my colleagues who teaches Japanese motioned me to come over and have a try. The students who were teaching us how to make the characters were super friendly and helpful, and I was instantly proud of this single incident, one of MANY at my school, that gives our young people a chance to shine and reach out to the rest of our school community.
I chose to paint the Kanji character for "love" and I did a halfway decent job. My teacher (a student) praised me, and my colleague who had encouraged me to try congratulated me on a job well done. That felt nice. But what happened next was really cool. On the walk back to my office, as I gingerly held my parchment with its ink still drying, someone opened and held open a door for me (which I am totally used to now at my school -- they all do it!), and then I passed two students I know sitting on the hallway floor, and they immediately identified my character as "love." They complimented my work, and a young man passed by, a student I do not know at all, and he said, "That's some great work! You should hang it." Gosh, I love these kids.
4. So my day was going really well, but I had to end it early at around 3:00. As I went to recycle a soda can, I stopped in to chat with a colleague, passing Douglas* along the way. When I returned to my office, all set to pack up my computer and take off, Douglas was waiting outside my office. Now, you need to know that Douglas doesn't talk much. Doesn't smile much. Doesn't even make eye contact sometimes. But the past few days in class, we've been playing Minecraft and he's been smiling, laughing, helping two or three classmates within the game. I've felt really happy for him because it seems like school isn't a drag for a change. Since Douglas seemed to be reading the Analog Blog Wall outside my office door, I asked him if he was just hanging out or was waiting to see me.
He was there to see me, so we stepped into my office. He had a question about the Minecraft teaching assignment; he wanted clarification of what needed to be done. And then he asked me some specific questions about how certain things might work in the game, and he came up with a really cool idea for something he could create in the game and then tell people how he did it. It was a completely original and extremely creative idea, and I was really impressed with the thought process he used to arrive at his idea. (I'm not going to share it here, because we want to surprise the class.) I told Douglas I really liked the way he thought, and I was super impressed with his creativity. He smiled, and looked kind of embarrassed, really. If I didn't think he'd slug me one, I'd have hugged the child.
Now, granted, I have looked online, and it seems like some people have already come up with similar ideas that work differently. That's not surprising. What I especially liked with Douglas was how outside-the-box he was thinking, and how he wasn't just relying on a quick fix to get the assignment completed. He walked away knowing he would need to experiment, try out materials, communicate with me while I'm away to get him some of the stuff he'll need for his construction, and be willing to try, fail, and repeat until he found just the right solution. And I feel really great about the sense of ownership he seems to have adopted with this.
So, when educators get frustrated and want to throw in the towel, I totally get it. But I also want them to think of these everyday interactions -- we all have them from time to time -- that are so uplifting, and are really simple yet not mundane. Students getting over obstacles, giving something a chance, challenging the status quo, encouraging their teachers and each other, being willing to put themselves in the teaching role, checking in with us, looking to us for guidance, and getting a little awkward when we remind them how amazing they are. These kinds of things may happen every day, but they're not really "everyday" occurrences. And they might not have the immense impact they do if there weren't a teacher there in the moment to enjoy it, to receive it, to notice it, to embrace it. I feel absolutely privileged to have been allowed to share in each of these four "moments" today. May I just stay awake and aware enough to notice them so vividly every day.