Saturday, September 12, 2009


This week one of my classes participated in an event to commemorate September 11th. We joined a thousand other students and staff in our quad and formed the word UNITY. Our principal went up in a helicopter and took a picture of us from the sky. Of course, the unity came from a common desire to honor those lives lost and remember a significant event in our country's history. But it made me think about the concept of unity and whether our school community or even the small community within my classroom can be seen as united.

What does it take for unity to occur?

First, we must share a common purpose. As I watch students walk through the door into the classroom each day, I wonder what purpose they have for being there. Is it to learn? Is it to develop themselves into more thoughtful, reflective human beings capable of understanding how others experience life and communicating effectively about how they experience theirs? Somehow I doubt that this is why they enter the room. Mostly the enter because it is what they are supposed to do. The sense of obligation compels them. Part of my job, then, becomes creating an environment which encourages them toward the purpose I want them to have. I have to make being such a person as the one described above appear so interesting and fulfilling that my students want that for themselves. On five hours of good sleep a night, that's a challenge, but it's one I accept.

Second in developing this sense of unity is a common respect. We need to recognize that each of us in the room is unique, but valuable. Not tolerable, but valuable. In the world of the teenager, self seems to be the thing of greatest value, but if we are going to be a community of readers, writers and thinkers, we need to have respect for the reading, writing and thinking of others. I see my students walking a very thin line -- hoping to project themselves to their teachers and peers as "not stupid" and "not lame," but not wanting to appear to eager or engaged. To appear bored by the class or unmoved or even "above" the class is preferable to being seen as a kiss-up or a nerd.

The novelty of gathering on the quad with a thousand other students, of being part of a word so large we couldn't even tell where within it we stood, of being photographed from a helicopter circling overhead like paparazzi at a celebrity wedding would be almost impossible to recreate in the classroom on a daily basis. However, with the right voice behind the megaphone guiding each child into a place where he fits and contributes to the endeavor at hand, my students can move toward common purpose and respect. I know it will take longer than the twenty minutes, but the memory will last much longer.