On surprises.

Something miraculous happened today.

We had only 30-minute classes, due to a school-wide ceremony at the start of the day.  Thirty minutes leaves us with maybe ten good minutes of work time in Ceramics, but I decided to push through and have them work anyhow.  The morning’s ceremony was long, and maybe minds were engaged but bodies weren’t.  Everyone spent the morning sitting still and quiet on bleachers.  You could feel the energy contained in 400+ teenagers trying to sit still, trying to stay respectful.  Once in awhile, it would come out in misdirected applause or nervous laughter.  After the stoic celebration was over, it was obviously time for a little kinesthetic learning.

I wasn’t expecting much – but here’s the miracle:  Today was our best day on the wheel so far, across the board.  I’m not entirely sure what happened – but my I’s sat down and made cups, and my II’s sat down and made lid fittings, and everyone seemed to ace the techniques today.  Was it new motivation, from the experience of attending the craft show last week?  Was it pent-up energy and release?  They were attentive to my demos, they were focused when they were working, and they were successful, against all the odds of a shortened period.

In Staley’s latest video, he paraphrases Robert Frost’s quote, “No surprise for the writer; no surprise for the reader,” into, “no surprise for the teacher; no surprise for the students.”

Today had a lot of surprises – a good friend welcomed his son to the world; a colleague whom I greatly respect used my words to present his meaning; a set of student design projects about which I had some serious doubts are progressing along just fine.  I think that Staley is suggesting this as an urge for us to innovate and try new things in the classroom – and sure, we shouldn’t ever really sit still.  But the nature of this teaching gig leaves us with surprises every day, even if we’re keeping our methodology status-quo.

We don’t teach content – we teach students, students who are as different as the pots they create.  No two kids and no two classes are alike.  Motivations, personalities, ability levels, focus, learning styles, senses of humor are all so amazingly different.  Today I found myself thinking that staying fresh and innovative with teaching might be less a matter of continually adjusting methods, and more about staying attuned to what our diverse students bring to the table.  We keep surprising each other – and if we let ourselves do so – sometimes running the risk of not knowing every answer – we find more questions to drive our motivations and our learning.

One boy looked at the pot he had just thrown today, and remarked, wonderingly, “I can’t figure out why that was so easy today.”

Me neither, kid.  Me neither.

“The questions and how sophisticated the questions are, are often a measure of the quality of the learning taking place.”   -C.S.

Practicum is one of my favorite forums for surprises…


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