Classroom Etiquette

As a teacher, I spend some time in the front of a classroom. Because of the nature of my full-time work—one-on-one academic support—I generally teach only one face-to-face class each year, but it is enough for me to track the changes in educational engagement through the years. Or is it?

As I stand in front of the class, with students working away on their computers, I (used to) make the assumption that they are taking notes or otherwise engaging in educational activities that will ultimately enhance their learning. That’s what I want to believe, so I create that reality in my head.

Fast forward to this summer, when I am taking a face-to-face class. This is the first time I have been a student in a physical classroom in many years, though I won’t say how many. I mean, I have attended various trainings (as recently as this past February) which mimic a classroom situation, but in those “classrooms,” it always seems as though people are interested in learning the material so they can bring it back to their own workplaces and put it to use.

This week was my second class in a summer-long Masters-level research class. I am not in a degree program; I am taking the class because I have research I want to conduct, and I don’t really know the best way to start. At this week’s class, one of my work colleagues was seated on my right. She and I were actively taking notes, discussing the topic, and beginning to get excited about our research projects.

On my left sat a fellow classmate, a young woman I have seen before, but I don’t know. She arrived right before the class started, took out her computer, and immediately picked up a message stream that she had left mid-conversation. To her credit, she also opened a document window where she could take notes during the 2+ hour class.

Class began, and she continued to occupy herself with messaging. Somehow this new generation of students hasn’t learned that they can say, “Hey, I’m in class right now. I’ll message you later,” and they don’t find it important to do so.

But this woman wasn’t engaged in class at all. Before 4:30, she removed a glass container from her bag and opened it on the desk. Inside was a nice looking dinner salad. She removed another container from her bag, opened it, and poured dressing onto the salad. Then she spent the next fifteen minutes crunching away on her dinner. (Did I mention this is a two-hour class? Have a snack before class, and you can have dinner at 6:15). When she was done, she dropped her metal fork into the glass container (not even attempting to be quiet), snapped the cover on, and put the container back in her bag. Then, she promptly returned to messaging her friend.

While I was trying to pay attention to the professor and concentrate on the material, I had developed a deep curiosity as to this woman’s non-stop in-class extra-curricular activities. Weren’t these activities just as effective when done from one’s couch in the comfort of one’s living room? Why would someone commit the time and money to a class when she wasn’t going to exert any effort beyond being physically present?

When I looked at her computer screen again, she was browsing the Crate & Barrel website, scrolling through dishes. The woman sitting to her left was commenting on the ones she liked best. In class. While the professor was lecturing. Clearly, taking a class means something different to these women than it does to me.

Perhaps I have an archaic notion of classroom behavior, left over from my student days long before the advent of portable computers. However, I don’t believe that respect for someone teaching a class has completely gone by the wayside. And I know for certain from all the studies I read that the best way to learn is to actively engage with the material.

We are only two classes in, and this experience has been eye opening for me. When I stand in front of my class in September—a class that is designed to help students make connections, discover how to learn, and serve as a foundation and resource for college life—I will tell my students that our classroom will be technology-free. Because sometimes, the best way to learn how to make connections is to disconnect.

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Hairpins

Every so often, my house coughs up a hairpin. This is an awkward habit that doesn’t seem to have an end. Every now and then, I will be walking through a room, and suddenly, there is a hairpin on the floor where there wasn’t one previously.

I am not sure where these hairpins are coming from. Years ago, my daughter had long hair. Years ago, she had to put her hair in a bun on a near daily basis for dance practice. But years ago, she cut her hair and donated it. It hasn’t been long since. And she hasn’t used a hairpin since.

Other moms sometimes complain of this same phenomenon, but their daughters still have long hair and use hairpins regularly. The fact that they have hairpins in their house makes sense.

We got rid of the hairpins—all the hairpins, I thought. The bulk of them, she gave to friends who were still dancing. Stray pins were thrown out as we came across them—usually in a logical place like her dance bag or her dresser.

Yesterday, I found one on the floor of my bedroom. [I do not use these devices in my own hair]. The fact that somehow my house is still holding on to hairpins is odd. In fact, it startles me when I come across one because no one in my house has used hairpins in years. Where are they coming from?

This is one of the mysteries of life for moms of girls.

Water

I was in the basement moving the laundry from the washer to the dryer. It was quiet in the basement, despite all manner of teen antics that were presently permeating the first floor. I live in a townhouse-style condominium, and as with most condominiums, this one was built quickly and cheaply. Sound travels from floor to floor, from room to room, and—pretty much—from end to end.

I concentrated on sorting the items that needed to go into the dryer from those that should be line-dried, attempting to ignore the laughter and shouts from above—sounds that clearly indicate mischief is afoot. But then C came tumbling down the stairs, his feet sending vibrations through the house before he skidded to a halt on the second to last stair.

“Can you just keep yourself busy down here for like ten minutes? I’ve got everything under control!”

“Um… no,” I told him, the gears in my brain grinding to a halt. “What’s happening up there?”

But he had already begun the sprint back up the stairs. “Nothing,” he said. “I’ve got it under control!”

I sighed as I hastened my sorting, knowing his story might be more than a bit skewed, though I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what was going on. J came down to get away from the ruckus and breathe, the boys’ rough play proving to be overwhelming. “They got a lot of water on the floor.” And then she proceeded to tell me that one boy threw a cupful of water at the other. “But they’re cleaning it up,” she added.

I took a deep breath pushing the minor complication from my thoughts. After all, it was just water. If my boys need to involve some “weapon” in their fights with each other, I suppose I should be happy that they choose to fight only with water. It’s (generally) easy to clean up, and (with the exception of frozen water balloons) it doesn’t hurt.

Let’s face it: my house has a long relationship with water. In the early days of parenting, I had toddlers jumping out of the tub and running down the hall “to get something,” with no thought for drying off first. I had little ones playing “car wash” and “baby bath time” on my kitchen floor. Water balloons, sprinklers, and pools filled my summers, and snow play with its soaking wet mittens, boots, snowpants, and jackets filled the dark afternoons of December through March. Rain, “frogging” in our pond, puddle jumping, water pistols and super-soakers.

A late-stage teenage water fight? I’ve got this! After all, what’s a little water between brothers when it’s all in fun?

Wonder

The other day, I was on my way out to the car for work when I noticed that the azalea bush at the bottom of my front steps had little pink buds on it.

Let me backtrack for a moment. When I say “azalea bush,” I am exaggerating just a bit. When I first moved here in 2004, there was an azalea bush there. Over the years, it was overtaken by some unexplained rot/mold/disease, and each spring, it appeared to be closer and closer to the doom of nonexistence. One year, when the condo association landscapers came to prune the bushes, I asked them if there was anything they could do to save it. The manager surveyed the sad little bush, shook his head, and told me that he would cut off the dead parts, but the bush would probably need to be removed. He worked away at it for a bit and when he was done, there was little left. “I don’t think that’ll help, but we’ll see,” he told me.

And for the past several years, my struggling azalea bush has been little more than a bundle of sawed off stumps with some dried twigs sticking up. Every now and then, a leaf appears, but nothing more.

So imagine my surprise when I walked out the door on a beautiful spring morning, and the beginnings of an azalea bush were growing from one side of the bundle of old rotten bush-parts. Tiny shoots flaunted bright pink buds that caught my eye. It wasn’t just one twig with a bud or two. It was a forest of shoots, each with multiple leaves and buds.

That afternoon when I returned from work, I gave the little bush some TLC. I carefully removed all of the rotten pieces, one by one. I pulled them out and created a pile of refuse next to my walkway. Now, there is more room for the shoots to grow and flourish.

I had almost given up hope on this little bush, but somehow I knew the life would return and the azalea would see spring again. And I was right—there was just enough life left in the roots connected to those old, dry twigs to send up shoots that will someday be a whole new bush.

“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”     – E. B. White

Ice Cream

The question was bound to come eventually. We had finished dinner (though apparently not dessert), and I was upstairs when I heard it, asked from one boy to the other, older brother to younger.

“What is it about those two flavors that make it better to mix them?” he asked. A burst of laughter threatened to give away my own curiosity on this issue. In truth, I had wondered this same thing countless times, but because this was a long-standing habit, I was used to it, and never asked.

Ever since I can remember, any time we went out for ice cream, W would order one scoop of vanilla and one scoop of mint chocolate chip in a large bowl. Then he would proceed to stir it up until it was all one flavor—vanilla-mint, melty and smooth.

I had been observing this phenomenon for years. I bought cartons of classic vanilla and mint chocolate chip ice cream, so he could prepare this concoction at home. And yet, I had never asked the reason why.

Sometimes, brothers can take not knowing only so long, and they finally break down and ask. But then I heard him ask, “What does it taste like, anyway? Can I try it?” And I wondered if he really wanted to try it, or if this was his way of getting some of his brother’s ice cream. Vanilla-mint or diluted-mint would not be my own personal choice….

The question of why he mixes these flavors was bound to come eventually. From upstairs, I didn’t hear the full answer, but for me, it was satisfying just to hear the question asked.

Apps

“There’s an app for that.”

It seems there’s an app for everything these days. I have this growing list of apps that I’m supposed to check out because they are all the rage and using them will be life changing. Today, as I was cleaning off my desk at work, I came across a post-it note that had just one word: “Wunderlist.” So I spent a few minutes Googling Wunderlist and wondering what it was about this app that was so compelling. Like so many other apps that have been recommended to me, this one will help me organize my life. I can make lists, set reminders, create folders, share my lists, collaborate with friends….

It seems that these days, apps are designed to do everything for me except the actual tasks that need to be done. Like shopping for groceries, for example. And cooking dinner. Or finding a recipe or cleaning the house. An app that schedules these things, lists all my tasks, and reminds me to do them is not really what I need. After all, wouldn’t I have to spend the time to input the list into the app in the first place? That requires time spent not doing the actual tasks….

While I’m sure these apps are notable—as someone has recommended them to me in the first place—they are not what I need.

I don’t want to organize my life. I want to simplify my life. And by simplify, I mean I want to stop relying on technology to make my life easier. I want to interact with the people around me. I want to enjoy nature, climb a mountain, play in the tide. I want to be present as I live my life. I want to be mindful enough to observe what is going on around me. And I want to be reflective about who I am, what I’m doing, and who I am becoming.

Apparently, “There’s an app for that.”

Nope. I don’t think so.

Simplicity

Recently, I was on a social media site, and I saw a picture of a pinecone in a tiny pot sprouting itty bitty pine trees. This picture was astonishing to me, both in its cuteness, and in its simplicity. The idea that I could take something as generally disregarded as a pinecone, put it in some dirt, and watch it grow captured my attention.

Not long after seeing this picture—on one of only a smattering of gorgeous spring days we’ve experienced—I stepped out for a walk during lunch. Rather than walking toward the road, I chose to walk to the back of our building. I had only a couple minutes to enjoy the warmth and the sunshine, and the grassy yard was calling to me. The ground under the pine trees was littered with beautiful, perfect pinecones. I’m going to try to grow one! I thought to myself, so I picked one up and brought it inside.

One of my students immediately discounted my idea to grow it. “It’s so dry,” she commented. “I can’t imagine anything growing out of that.” But then again, that is the miracle of a seed, isn’t it? That an object so small and dry and seemingly worthless can sprout life and become something as majestic as a tree.

Maybe my little pinecone will grow a seedling, and maybe it won’t. But I’m going to give it a try. I’m feeling a need for simplicity and growth in my life.

And if this pinecone does grow, maybe it really would be just a little bit of a miracle.