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Slice of Life 9: Teaching after hours

This afternoon, I found myself lingering after school to talk to a few colleagues. Our conversation was animated, passionate. It was the type of conversation that pushed my thinking further, the type of conversation that made me consider things from different points of view. It was the type of conversation I was still thinking about after I left the building today.

In fact, it was the type of conversation that picked up right where we left off in a series of text messages sent back and forth, off and on, for nearly four hours. We talked about our teaching, our students, and more importantly, what we were teaching our students. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the responsibility we have as teachers to teach more than just academic content or academic skills. Those are important, no doubt, but there’s another curriculum—the hidden curriculum, as educators Theodore and Nancy Sizer term it in their 2000 book, The Students are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract. To briefly summarize the Sizers’ work:

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I actually first read the Sizers’ book when I was in graduate school; my masters thesis was on the role of moral education in secondary classrooms. Since then, however, I hadn’t given as much deliberate thought about the hidden curriculum, mostly out necessity, survival, and then non-habit. But lately I can’t seem to escape it. The Sizers’ challenge “to find the core of a school . . . look at the way the people in it spend their time—how they relate to each other, how they tangle with ideas” pulls at me and pushes. What are the messages, I wonder, that I send to my students in my daily interactions (and non-interactions) with them? 

And of course, the hidden and official curriculum overlap. One issue that had been nagging at me lately was what we were doing with the texts that we teach—what larger purpose do they serve? These, for example, are some of my texts (excuse my texting typos):

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And so I find myself struggling as I question how I frame and deliver content—and how the frame and delivery can often make or break a learning experience. I continued:

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Later, one of my colleagues added this:

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We didn’t come to any conclusions or necessarily fix any problems in our after-hours conversations, but we did hash out some big issues, thought deeply about our practice and how to serve students well.

It was time well spent.


slice of life

This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.

4 Comments

  1. Tricia, your post is marvelously thought-provoking! I love the dialogue you share between colleagues, and how you relate these exchanges to your thinking about the Sizers’ book– one that I clearly need to read. The overlap of hidden and stated curriculum is a question I hadn’t considered in the way you’ve framed it, but there is no question that our deliberate AND accidental actions have an effect on our students. I will be rolling these ideas around as well now. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rachel T.

    Those are the conversations I have in my head with myself all of the time. They are also what makes me sad about what happens in our building between teachers and within our department. I remember a few years ago, one of our students died suddenly, and she had been in one of my classes. I remember struggling the next couple of days not to fall apart. I would leave the classroom to stand in the hallway and cry. I would break down in the early hours of the school day or in between classes and feel embarrassed if a student walked in on my tears. My supervisor told me at the time to let them see me cry – let my students see how to handle this, how I handle this, and that it’s okay to struggle with your day but that you keep going. A year later, when my uncle died, I completely lost it during lunch. My students walked into my classroom as I was heaving and sobbing, struggling to breath, and while I had no intention of showing that side to them, it showed me how right she was. So many of them told me they understood when I came back in and had composed myself. I explained to them what had happened and why I was so upset. Since then, when something goes wrong – I tell my students. My friend’s son almost died last year from seizures that wouldn’t stop. I talked about him throughout the rest of the year as he recovered and received treatment, as he became himself again. A few weeks ago, when a close family member admitted to a heroin addiction, I told my students too. I told them how my family came together, how we sent letters, and how I cried in the parking lot of the Wawa for my family and for my family member, for the road ahead. I have started doing the same sharing about being married. I’ve been married for three years, so I’m early enough into it, but I make a point of sharing (appropriate) parts of my relationship with my husband, the struggle over cleaning, of what to make for dinner and who should cook, and just the general tension of living with someone day in and day out. But I also share what I love about him, moments that crack me up, to the point that my husband (without knowing it) became the unofficial mascot of my 5th period class last year and when he came to help me volunteer at an event, I had students coming up to take selfies with him. I still struggle to know where my boundaries are with the students. There are plenty of things I still keep to myself, but I know exactly what you mean about what we’re teaching about being an adult and about being human. The curricular skills just don’t cover it, but if I think back to my time in high school, I remember the stories, the moments my teachers were human, and the times we talked about those big things. I know I learned a ton in those other moments, but I don’t remember the place and time I learned those other things. I remember the stories – the room, the teacher, and the lessons. Thanks for the thought provoking post!! xx

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