Thursday, March 7, 2013

Contrasts and Contradictions

This weekend, I will attend the Northern Virginia Writing Project's Language and Learning conference. The keynote speakers this year are Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, who will be discussing their new book Notice and Note. Well, in advance of the conference,  I tore through the book and found their method of helping kids read deliberately makes sense in the "why didn't think of this" sort of way that good teaching does. I immediately adopted their six literary signposts and have begun experimenting to see if they will help my students as much as I suspect. 

While that book and this week's conference more than deserves their own Slices, I won't get into it here. What's more important to me the way the signposts have begun resonating in unexpected ways. It probably shouldn't surprise me I've begun to notice these patterns not just in my reading but in life. One of the six signposts they use to help students see patterns in literature is "Contrasts and Contradictions, " and  Today, in particular, seemed to be rife with contrasts and contradictions. With apologies to Beers and Probst, I've appropriated their signpost as my title for Slice #7 so that I can talk about the most dramatic contrast of the day.

This morning, school opened two hours late. When this happens, I like to try to get to school close to the regular opening time; often this allows me to get some preparation done and to touch base with colleagues I don't have the chance to see normally for more than a hello in the halls [1]. This morning, two colleagues, one my next door neighbor and another from different department visited. In both cases, we talked about writing and rhetoric. One asked about the rhetoric and composition program that she'd heard about from my former colleague-turned-preferred-substitute-teacher, who was in for me when I went to the Monday meeting. The other proposed a new student and faculty writing salon style meeting [2]. The end result of both conversations was a sense of belonging and of thoughtfulness. 

Soon after the second conversation, and well before school began, I sent two multi-page, double-sided print jobs and one single-sided print job to the second floor copier in preparation for 1st period. As I live at the end of the hall and far from any department printer, I tend to send my copying directly to the copier instead of printing, walking to the department office, picking up the print job, walking to the copier, programming the copy settings, and waiting for the copies to finish. Most of the time when I send sets of 30-60 copies that are double-sided and stapled, I leave my room and get to the copier soon after the job finishes. I simply pick up the copes and go back down the hall. 

So far, this has not been an issue. Once or twice, when someone else has been there to program jobs, I've had to wait for my print job to come up, so I assumed that the copy function takes priority. Apparently, that's not always the case. 

Unbeknownst to me, two of the building's copiers were broken and there was . Thus, the copier where I sent the print job had a line. And my printing took priority over other jobs. My colleagues couldn't figure out how to interrupt my printing jobs and do their own copying, so they watched and fumed as my copies got made.

Wholly unaware of the copier situation and chaos my use of copier as printer had caused in the more than 40 minutes before classes started, I stopped through the workroom to pick up other single-copy printing and ran into one of my fellow English teachers. She asked if I had sent a job to the copier and told me several people were ticked off that the job went through and they had to wait.

Though my friend suggested I lay low, I went to the copy room to pick up the job; when I arrived, a teacher I have never met before immediately laid into me about the printing. She didn't introduce herself. She didn't ask if there had been a mistake. She instead decided to scold me and asked me if I thought it was appropriate to make other people who had been in line wait for my jobs to finish. I pointed out that I had no idea the technology made my print jobs the priority. However, she seemed intent on making me admit that I was some sort of inconsiderate, thoughtless wretch and didn't seem satisfied that I was not going to contritely apologize for making her wait. 

The more she tried to manipulate me (or so it seemed to me at the time), the less I was willing to compromise by offering any sort of apology. After all, I didn't even know this woman, and I was not about to be treated like a 14-year-old who had spoken out of turn in one of her classes. We exchanged a few words, though I remember little of what I said as I was focused on remaining calm yet uncompromising. Then, I walked over to the administrative assistant's desk and picked up my job. It was one of the two most unprofessional interactions I've ever experienced in a workplace. Within the span of half an hour, I went from feeling like part of a community to feeling like maybe this was no longer the place for me. 

Fortunately, that moment didn't end up ruining my day, and I have not decided to change jobs, as I briefly considered immediately after the confrontation. But the left over adrenaline and defensiveness made it tough to get started for a while as I tried to shift my focus away from the feeling of being attacked. Thank goodness for the breathing room afforded by the Pledge of Allegiance and the morning announcements.

I will try not to let this interchange color the way this other teacher and I interact from here forward; now that I'm not in the heat of the moment, I'm more inclined toward compassion and understanding. Having had situations where I felt as if every second counted, I was behind, and I felt under the gun, I certainly understand how she could feel panicked about getting her work done before the bell. The change in the daily schedule and the unexpected copier obstacle likely combined  to make the routine seem even rougher than normal. I admit I've not always behaved as well as I would like; my reactions have been out of proportion to the situation at times, too. And I didn't always realize it until after I had done or said something that upon more sober reflection seemed outsized. 

For me, this contrast between my morning conversations reinforces that we all have bad days, but they are not the whole of who we are any more than our best days. I hope that I'm not judged by either my very best or my very worst days; either would be reductive of who I am as a person and as a professional. This isn't an easy job we do, and part of acknowledging that complexity means forgiving ourselves and each other as we forward. 

[1] The room where I teach is at the end of one of the hallways. I can go literally days, and probably weeks if I'm not careful, without interacting with my peers beyond brief smiles, "how are ya"s, or waves. This isolation has been exacerbated by having a different lunch schedule than the others in my department, which was admittedly self-inflicted because I wanted to have time to move the computer lab where I teach journalism during the last period of the day. While I like the quiet at the end of the hall and the time to move without the hallway crush, I do miss the brief connections afforded by shared lunches.
[2] Again, this deserves its own Slice when this colleague and I have fleshed out the idea further. The proverbial cat should be out of the bag sometime during the month.


  1. I actually came into the copy room when that was going on. Because I only needed one sided copies, I used the "little guy" but wondered if the person who had sent the stuff over the computer realized that it bumped ahead of everyone. Now that I know that it was you, I know for certain it wasn't on purpose. I am sorry you had to run into that teacher in the copy room. She was a bit irrational when I was in there and I'd like to think it was definitely a "heat of the moment" thing. When she was told the room where the copies originated, I suggested that she probably shouldn't go down there because it wouldn't end well. I hope you know that you are loved and definitely a great part of our community!

    On another note, I am curious about this "salon style" thing mentioned in foot note 2.

  2. Chris, My classroom is also at the end of the hall. It can be a lonely place. I totally get it. So sorry that yesterday happened...that's so discouraging! I'd stop by and chat if we worked together. ;) Hey, I'm going to Language and Learning tomorrow too. Maybe we can meet "in person"! :)

    1. I'm so glad we got the chance to meet and talk. I hope to see you again very soon!

  3. There is so much in this post that deserves comments! I'll restrict mine to these: 1 - I am sorry about the encounter. You are kind to give this colleague thoughtful consideration. I hope her future actions show that she deserves that. 2 - You are at the conference today and it will be great, I know. I can't wait to read more about it.

    1. Thanks, fireflytrails! It's sometimes tough to be kind and thoughtful. But I know that most misunderstanding are the result of miscommunication.

      I finally wrote a bit about the conference this afternoon. It was amazing. :)