Naturally, I was mortified by the mess these two children quickly and easily made of what should have been a perfectly good lesson. Frick told me in no uncertain terms to Frick off (without using the word "Frick") while Frack loudly and repeatedly wailed to anyone who would listen that I, this Fracking school, and the entire world was mean and unfair for calling her mom after she Fracked off out of class without a pass or even an ostensible reason last week.
Mr. Helpful tried to help. He tried to talk to Frick after I, unsuccessfully, tried to talk to her. He tried to get Frack's group back on track for the activity I had planned. And then he did the most helpful thing of all: He left.
But then Mr. Helpful did something else. He came back later in the day to ask if we could talk about the lesson. We sat down and talked. And he opened the conversation with the most Helpful thing he could have said: "You didn't do anything wrong."
He explained that he had taught many of the Fricks and Fracks I had assembled before me, including Frick and Frack themselves. He acknowledged that they are tough kids who have told many well-intentioned, reasonable adults to Go Frack Themselves before, including Mr. Helpful himself. "There are no quick fixes for a group like that," he said. "There was nothing wrong with the activity or the way you ran the class. I can suggest one or two small changes here and there, but you've got it right, for the most part. Just keep doing what you're doing and they'll come around."
I felt, during this conversation, enormously relieved and decidedly not judged. I got a few Helpful pedagogical pointers to help me re-engineer some upcoming lessons for the group. And I got some understanding from a colleague who hopes to be a principal one day that Fricks and Fracks aren't made overnight; they're bringing in years of personal and academic baggage that one teacher cannot hope to change in a couple of class periods and, in Frick and Frack's cases, dozens of fine teachers had not changed in nearly four years at what is considered to be a top-notch school.
Obviously this post raises as many questions as it answers: Why can't all post-observation conversations be this positive and, well, helpful? Why are Fricks and Fracks hanging around our classes when they clearly cannot handle being there? And why are kids who have clearly been off-track for graduation for quite a while not getting some more intense and personalized interventions? Still, a terrible lesson was turned into something good--for me, for Mr. Helpful, and for my kids. And maybe that's as good as it gets on a Tuesday before winter recess.
By the way, y'all, enjoy that. My relatives and friends in other parts of the country think it's hilarious that we get a random week in February off, but hey, I'll take it.