A Little Madness

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Even though I was running short on time, I started the morning with a large dark roast from the coffee shop. For extra reinforcement, I armed myself with a tall travel mug loaded with a home-brewed Zambian blend — because I knew there was Madness in the air today.

Students at my high school anticipate May Madness, an annual spring event, with a frenetic energy because they can spend the entire afternoon in purely selfish and non-academic pursuits, ranging from rock-climbing to Avon makeup sessions. It is unadulterated “Madness” in more ways than one.

I didn’t know if the timing of the event would be good or not this year. Just yesterday, I finished administering state exams to my students, so the morning leading up to today’s event was pretty much awash, as students just needed to come up for air. We engaged in some post-mortem conversations about their test experiences, but we generally just breathed together. With the testing behind me, I also tackled some grading, completed purchase orders and began sweeping up some end-of-the-year debris. In times like these, it’s so simple to toss the lingering catalogs and file folders into the trash. When they make that final, lifeless thud, I revel in the certainty that now I know they’ll never be useful someday.

Slowly, it’s getting easier to breathe.

But then I was called down to meet with a parent, her daughter and a boyfriend. Don’t ask. Neither of the students is a current student of mine, but somehow the drama was far-reaching enough to whirl and swirl me into their vortex.

But back to the Madness, right? Well, I and another teacher were charged with the responsibility of supervising the event’s coffee shop sessions. Listening to live entertainment, students would drink coffees and espressos, teas and hot chocolates.

We set up a PA sound system in my classroom, transported one of the music department’s new keyboards to the rear of my room, and set up a pair of microphones. I dimmed the lights and let my retro-fabulous owl lamp bounce its light off the glossy stars which hang from the ceiling by strings. The stars hang there all year because I begin the year by using van Gogh’s “Starry Night” as a metaphor for writing. The actual reprint hangs on one of my walls, next to a series of four paintings which also reflect the theme. Art students created those a few years ago.

I enjoyed the students in less institutional setting today. I enjoy opportunities to see them as real people — closer to their natural habitat — instead of seeing them through the lens of standardized test scores which reflect both aggregate and individual skill set competency in particular state-sanctioned core standards, for example.

Bleh.

After the last session, the classroom was looking pretty mangled and disheveled. Desks had been shaken around in seismic waves of teenage will. Puddles of coffee and traces of sugar lingered on the floor. But after everyone had left, I saw two students linger in my room, in a different way. Unasked, they were quietly helping to order the desks into a recognizable pattern again. This kind of thing does not usually happen. Yet this is exactly the kind of thing that does happen when we get a chance to see each other as real people — instead of reducing each other to clearly defined, institutional roles.

Maybe a little madness is good for us all, after all.

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