Today I attended a teacher workshop – day three of the five introductory days to a year-long exploration of American Art in the humanities classroom. The topic is fascinating, the scholarship formidable, and the cohort small. Twenty four of us.
They are doing a fair share of modeling instruction techniques, and we start each day with a sharing of the previous day’s reflection with the others at the table.
When I taught high school, it was an interesting phenomenon that students assign themselves seats pretty quickly. That had happened in this room as well, and I wanted to talk with some different teachers. When I go to a conference, I always force myself to meet new people, to start a conversation with someone new. So when I arrived super-early to dodge the Blackhawks parade today, I sat at an empty table, though not the table that I was at yesterday. I had my materials out and was sitting with my coffee.
A woman who had been at that table yesterday approached.
“You sitting at a different table today?” she asked.
“Yeah, I thought I’d get a change of perspective. Will that drive people crazy, do you think?”
“Yes it will.”
Wow. The look in her eye was not one of laughter.
I stood up and said something about my students and their tendency to sit in the same spots, picked up my things, and moved back to the table I was at yesterday. She sat down; she did not ask me to stay.
My interaction with the entire day was changed. I did not raise my hand. I did not volunteer. I spent some time thinking about the lunchroom at school and the power dynamic that gets played out every day. I was angry at myself for not staying put, but I reconciled my decision by assuring myself that conversations would not be fruitful at a table that did not welcome me. I am struck by how it changed me, and I want to understand how I can help my students who find themselves in the same situation.
Reading this back over, I seem like a total wimp. I guess I am, but I was not ready to fight that one today.