I know what you’re doing. It’s nothing new. You think you’re distracting me, skillfully diverting the teacher’s attention away from the lesson and starting me on some tangential discussion. You think you’re somehow “winning” because we didn’t get as far as I’d planned in the lesson.
I love it. You think I haven’t seen this before? I know who you are. I know what to look for, when to indulge you, and when to steer us back on course. Don’t you understand? I want nothing more than to engage these discussions, to embrace your questions, and to revel in the spontaneity of learning!
Yes, learning. Believe it or not, this is when the “shaping lives” part of my job takes place. This is when I can talk to you about things that are real and relevant to you right now. Not that my planned lessons are irrelevant – they’re important for reasons you probably haven’t even considered. But the tangents are important, too. This is when you get to see me as a real person, as someone who might have something of relevance to say. This is when I get to see your personalities and quirks, which actually helps me plan lessons down the road. The better I know you, the better I can teach you. Besides, you hold on to these tangents, even if you don’t realize it.
So we talk. We discuss the differences between British and American English, an unnecessary offshoot of the discussion on why Shakespeare’s language is so hard to understand. We talk about Christianity in non-Christian settings, which is something many of you haven’t had to face yet. We commiserate over the possibilities of a weather-related school closing tomorrow, and I confide that I wouldn’t mind if that happened. We talk about realistic career goals when you should be taking a vocab quiz. Yes, these conversations stall class and delay the lessons, but sometimes, that’s OK. Sometimes something bigger is happening than discussions on the character motivations of Hamlet. It happens whether you see it or not.
I’m watching the clock. I know what I need to cover by the end of the period. Despite what you might think, I’m fully aware of what’s happening, and I’m letting it happen. Because you’re thinking while we talk. I can see the wheels turning in your brain, and it’s so much better than the blank stares I get from you other times in class. You’re questioning the universe in the safety of my classroom, and I’m privileged to play a role in a crucial stage of your development. And you think you’re just distracting the teacher… Ha! If you only knew. 🙂
You see, I was you in high school. I was a master at distracting the teacher. I remember classmates whispering to me before class, “Hey, Christine! Can you talk to Miss McIntyre today so that we don’t have to do anything in class?” And I would. I would talk to her for 45 minutes straight, cutting her block period in half. My classmates and I thought I was manipulating her. Instead, I was forming a relationship with a mentor who would later offer me advice and guidance as I began my own teaching career. (And, yes, I still learned a lot about history in her class, too).
You should be asking questions. You should be engaging in conversations. I’ll make sure we still spend enough time on the lesson. It’s my job. But I want you to learn more from me than verb conjugations and literary analysis. The tangents are when that other learning happens.