The student pantomimed an explosion, his hands expanding outward from his head. “Mind blown!” he exclaimed, though his smile belied the action. His partner giggled. “Wow,” another student added. The teacher stood in front of the room, smirking at the figurative mental fireworks around the room. He had just explained a facet of sequences and series to his Calculus II class, discussing how and why .99 repeating did, in fact, equal 1. “Elementary school teachers like to keep it simple, but mathematicians really like to complicate things,” he added. His students chortled some more.
“Now think back to the Reader’s Theater,” the teacher said. “Remember what Dickens was saying about crowds in the passage that the group shared?” The students nodded. “It’s like they are living creatures that can’t be controlled,” one student said. Another added, “Even by the people who pull the crowds together.” “We see that today,” a third student continued. “And that painting that we were just looking at—it really emphasizes the chaos.” The teacher nodded as other sophomores chimed in.
“Okay, now put down your music,” the teacher said. “And,” she added, “Hold hands.” The students giggled and settled sheet music on seats, jostled for various locations, grabbed each other’s palms, then fell silent, their eyes forward. The teacher paused, made sure she had everyone’s attention, and raised her arms. The voices lifted, swelling harmonies interweaving, the words echoing love and devotion and energy and melancholy, all wrapped in the melody and the rhythm and the blending notes, and all of us were wiping at our eyes as the Chorus finished that beautiful practice on a bleak Monday morning at 8:48 a.m.
Throughout the period, the students laughed, mostly at each other. They talked, asked questions, answered queries, made assertions, looked nervously toward me, scribbled notes, and talked a bit more. The teacher shared vocabulary with them, corrected pronunciation, and asked them more questions. In the forty-five minutes of class, I only heard three English words, and one of them really didn’t count: it was my name. Even before class, one student—who was complaining in the hallway about having two more classes before she realized I was listening—switched to Chinese mid-grumble the moment she stepped into the classroom.
Every few days, I visit a classroom in the Upper School, slipping into the back of the class, trying not to startle the students, though many of them cast sidelong glances at me, a bit nervous as I settle with my notebook in hand. Within minutes, though, they ignore me, focusing on the lesson, immersing themselves in the content.
And, every time I enter these classrooms, I hear the echoes of why I fell in love with teaching decades ago: the moments of insight, the flashes of understanding, the bursts of humor, the unexpected creation of ringing art— all because of that alchemical mixture of student interest and engaged teachers.
Ask teachers what they love about CA, and they will say, “the students.”
Ask students, and they will say, “the teachers.”
So, it seems appropriate to celebrate these two incredible groups as we approach February 14th. Add a bit of chocolate, and the day is perfect.
Happy Valentine’s Day, especially to the students and adults who make the magic happen at Cary Academy.