My favorite moments in teaching occur when a discussion gets going that is rich and real. Sometimes I feel like everything is going horribly in my classes and I’m an utter failure, and then, when I least expect it, a good discussion sneaks up on me like a child with a water balloon, and when all is said and done, I am left feeling both rattled and refreshed.
If there’s any predictable pattern to how and when these discussions happen, it’s when I have very little in the way of a class plan or have had to alter plans at the last minute; there’s something about that scrambling, erratic state that brings me energy and openness and helps feed a good discussion.
This morning, I literally had to run to my first class because we had a special schedule, one that allowed me to drop Free off directly at her school, saving her a 45 minute bus ride, but it meant there was a chance I’d be late if I hit any traffic at all. I arrived at my class exactly 2 minutes tardy, breathless but relieved to find Newman at the helm, leaning in to greet my students and tell them to wait for my arrival. It was a nice way to start the day, actually, and since classes were only 35 minutes long (instead of the usual 75), I jumped right in (after “good things,” of course) to review the ending of Romeo and Juliet.
There’s a lot to cover in Act 5, what with the apothecary scene and 4 deaths and the Friar abandoning Juliet and the Prince sort of letting him off the hook and all that. I buzzed through some of it and then circled around some of the bigger issues like fate vs. free will and teenage suicide to see what would catch. My students were all over it, and I actually felt like mine was one voice among many. It was a great feeling, one that I recognized and soaked up as it doesn’t come too often.
I teach freshmen and seniors. It can take a while to build up to a sustained discussion with freshmen, and seniors often revert to middle-school behavior and attention spans at the end of the year, reducing the possibility of full engagement. It doesn’t help that I tend to get distracted by my students’ side conversations and can get frustrated easily. For some teachers, the day to day interactions and class dynamic flow easily; for me, it’s always been challenging. That’s why, on a good day, when it does all come together, it sort of saves me.
During the course of our class discussion, I said that I felt that the older generation had completely failed the younger one in the play. After class, one of my students emailed me this quotation:
The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.
Wow. I’ve been coming back to that one all day. It perfectly connected today’s discussion with our work last class on the dynamic qualities of the main characters, and it extended my observation about the generational gap to an interrogation of the lessons of this play for audiences of any age. Part of what we touched on today was the juxtaposition of the younger generation’s limited (and often therefore emotionally intensified) perspective (exhibited in part by Romeo’s declaration that “There is no world without Verona walls”) vs. the older generations’ ability to see beyond this moment or feeling (e.g. the “It gets better” campaign).
Having made that distinction, let me immediately correct it to say we can all be susceptible or open to both ways of thinking. Lately, I’ve fallen victim to a limited perspective. My senior class has been so bad that I have all but given up on trying to teach them effectively. My goals have steadily decreased to the point where, if I don’t lose my temper and snap at someone, I deem it a successful class. There are a few numskulls who are chief players in trying to break me down with idiotic maneuvers, but I feel like I have not been able to rise above it, and that has really been bumming me out.
When I read the quotation above, my seniors immediately jumped to mind. That’s it, I thought. They’ve seen me lose it too many times, and they know I’m imperfect; they see me wanting to give up. I don’t want them to see me that way. It’s somehow comforting to know that this awareness on their part puts them at the adolescent stage, and that graduating from that stage requires them to forgive me for my imperfections, as I forgive them theirs every time I enter the classroom with a smile and a vow to try again.
I have one more week before my seniors leave for internships. I hope we can all finish well. If we can do so, and if we can forgive each other (and ourselves), we can all count ourselves graduates in the school of imperfect perfection, or in other words, wisdom.