Work in Progress

It’s much easier to write/think about the things that went well this year than the areas where I know I screwed up or things I haven’t figured out just yet.

I mentioned this already in my last post, but some kind of structure is needed.  It was easy to just fly by the seat of my pants when I had 5 kids coming regularly to make stuff, but as things got crazier, I definitely had moments where I was watching the clock, waiting for the bell to ring, because I was overwhelmed by the level of chaos.  Not misbehavior, but just loads of kids in the library and in the makerspace all at once, with multiple people wanting something from me at the same time.  This coming year, there will be a new schedule in the middle school that essentially gives every kid a free period or study hall or activity period at the same time, twice every day.  We are used to at least having study halls spread out throughout the day; our absolute craziest times have always been those 2 periods a week when most kids had a common study hall.  Now we will have that every day, twice a day.  There are huge advantages to this schedule–not so much for us in the library, but in general–so I am looking forward to it, and we can use some of the new activity period times for more Make It club meetings.  

But I have got to get myself organized.  I worked a bunch during the last week of school to get the materials organized, and I need to do more of that, even though it is a bit hopeless–even when the kids clean up, things end up in the wrong places, so organization feels Sisyphean.  But I also need to post some simple rules; have some clear labeling of materials that require adult supervision or training (I’m going to do a green/yellow/red system); institute some kind of cleanup system (because surely there is something that will work better than the current lack of system); and somehow become less of a “yes” person and tiny bit more of a “no” person.  

That last one is the hard one for me.  It’s not that I cannot and do not say “no,” but I think I have a lot to learn in terms of walking that line between giving them freedom to create and be who they are, and giving them guidance when they need it.  I’m not talking about projects here so much, although I have definitely stepped in and taken over something when I should have let the kid just work through it.  But I have also managed more and more to force myself to say, “No, you don’t need me to help.  You can do this.  I’m going to sit here with you, but you are going to do it,” even when I could see problems they couldn’t see.  Because I know (KNOW) that they will learn far more from messing up and then redoing it than they would from me stepping in and doing it while they watch.  And that frustration they feel and work through is what they need to be experiencing; it makes the end result of something finally working that much sweeter.  But chaos sometimes works against me there–when 4 kids want something at the same time, and one of them wants help threading a needle, I am guilty of just threading the needle for them because it’s quicker.  Even though I know (KNOW) this is not the answer and kick myself for having done it.

But it’s not projects that I’m talking about anyway.  It’s something about the fact that these are 10-14 year-old kids, in the midst of what is arguably the toughest portion of life (I mean, how many of us want to go and relive middle school the way we experienced it? I know I do not.).  And I think what I do well sometimes bumps up hard against what I do not do well.  I’m not their friend, and I have to tell them to stop doing X or start doing Y, and I don’t have a hard time with that, really.  I do have a very high tolerance for chaos, though–more so than many folks.  And I sometimes worry that I am not doing the kids any favors with that.  I won’t tolerate them being crappy to each other, intentionally or unintentionally.  But I will tolerate a sarcastic sense of humor, and a bit of light-hearted sass.  I don’t feel a need to be In Control and The Boss.  I expect them to respect me, but I also expect myself to respect them.  I don’t see us as equals, exactly, but in terms of respecting each other, I do.  They are people; they are going to mess up; I am going to mess up.  They have feelings and they are doing their best to get along in this world, as am I.  I try to give them space to let loose a little bit, because what I want most of all is for the library to be a safe place for them.  I am straight with them if I think they have crossed a line, but I think my idea of crossing a line is different from other folks’, and while I mostly feel okay about that difference (life is about learning the rules of different environments, right?), I do worry.  (This would apply to parenting as well.  Don’t even get me started there.)

There was one afternoon towards the end of the year when I was in a Mood.  I mean, I had had a crappy day, and I was just done.  The afterschool group, who had been pretty wild the previous few days (end of year madness), came in and I just said, “Look, guys.  I have had a long day, and I am crabby, and I am just asking you to be calm today.”  They responded by joking around a bit, and I can’t even remember what one kid said, but it was something that I knew would probably not be okay with some people.  Just a bit sassy, but the kind of thing that I found funny because I knew she wasn’t intending to be disrespectful at all.  And they were great that afternoon (and really every afternoon after that, I’m pretty sure).  They policed each other.  I was comforted by that.  They may have grumbled to each other about it, but I doubt it: they know what being in a cruddy mood is like.

But my point, which is taking me a million years to get to, is that I wonder sometimes if I am not being the Heavy enough.  I speak up if something actually bothers me, but I know that some faculty would rather the library be less chaotic.  One teacher, who I adore and have great respect for and who creates a great classroom atmosphere from what I can see, doesn’t like, for example, that the kids are allowed to jump over these seats that are in the middle of the library.  In my mind, these seats practically beg to be jumped over, or ninja-rolled over.  Kids are constantly doing stunts over them as they come through the building.  Should I be stopping that?  I’m not going to–I’m sure strict policing for a few weeks would kill it, so it’s not like I couldn’t do it, but I kind of like it.  But that little thing is a flag for me that I need to stay aware that these are kids, and I do have a responsibility to guide them.  In the makerspace, I need to be better about policing cleanup, for sure.  It seems like way too often, a group of 4 kids will pull out a bunch of stuff, and then one kid ends up left to clean it up because s/he is the one who has a conscience about it, and then I end up sending them off to class and doing it.  Which teaches them exactly nothing.  

I don’t know.  I’m rambling.  Maybe I am just overwhelmed by the idea that I am supposed to be teaching kids how to be decent humans when I am still figuring out how to be a decent human myself.  I learn as much from them as they do from me.  What I am about to learn along with them, I hope, is how to better balance structure and freedom, at a level that preserves the fun but allows ultimately for more peace.



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2 responses to “Work in Progress

  1. Allison Williams

    All the while you are struggling with the question of whether you are extending too much freedom, I am trying to figure out how I can help the little guys of the Lower School incorporate more movement in their time in the library. Having recently read an article about why our kids fidget, I really want to address this issue: “In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention. In order to pay attention, we need to let them move.” I guess we are both trying to find the golden mean.

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