I am the very proud principal of the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center (HACTC). And I have a confession to make.
Learning can be hard.
And so can humility.
I was reminded of both recently when a student landed in my office for his negative behavior in class….again.
With a charged tone and palms pressed firmly on the table in our office (I share an office with the Assistant Principal), I found myself saying to the student - with chest and head leaned in his direction, “Come on! I thought you learned this!!
You told me you did!!
You showed me (and others) that you did!!!
For a long time!!!
If you really learned it, then why did you do it again?!!!!
What in heck are you doing?!!!”
Emphasis on the question marks and exclamation points.
I love grammatical symbols.
The love of a former English teacher.
Nonetheless, I was really, really, really, really, really, really, really annoyed that he was before me for the same reason he was before me two years ago.
With the same crimson cheeks.
The same sagging shoulders.
The same eyes on the floor.
And the same shuffling feet.
If he ‘learned’ then, why was the mistake repeated and why was he sitting before me once more?
But as life goes (well, at least my life), as soon as the student in question crossed the threshold of our office door to sit in the lobby and ‘think about his words and actions’, I opened up my computer to continue a task started before he was sent to our office.
Cleaning out files from my Google Drive.
A task prompted by a notice in my email that I had ‘exceeded my storage limit.’
So I continued.
And I continued feeling really damn good about myself for correctly ‘handling’ the student’s negative behavior.
Through correct discipline!
Doin' his job!
And doin’ it well!
Earning his pay!
That’s the truth.
The shitty truth.
That is how I felt.
In hindsight, there should not have been an emphasis on the grammatical symbols, despite my English teacher love.
There should have only be a recognition of hypocrisy.
Because as the student left our office to sit in the lobby, a document came up on my screen from Google Drive asking if it should be deleted or saved.
It was named “Things I Have Learned.”
I opened it.
It was a list I made eight months into my new job as the school leader of the HACTC.
To share with the staff and the students.
To show them that I was ‘learning'.
I read it.
And swallowed hard.
With crimson cheeks.
And sagging shoulders.
And eyes on the floor.
There in front of me were twenty-four things that I had ‘learned.’
‘Learned’ just like the student in the lobby had ‘Learned.’
And I ‘disciplined’ him for.
Hence, this confession.
More than half of the things on the list, I could easily identify as new learning...just last week.
Not six years ago, like I claimed.
Conclusion: I did learn those things six years ago but then relearned those things - consistently and repeatedly - in the six years since.
And if I had a principal who really understood learning speak to me in regards to my list, she could have said at any point in the last six years,
“Good job!! You made a mistake!!
I knew you would! And I am glad!
Because you are now showing me (and others) that you are learning!!!
And relearning stays longer than initial learning.
For a long time!!!
I am so happy that you know what in heck are you doing!!!”
With an emphasis on the exclamation points.
Regardless if there was a love of grammatical symbols.
Or a history as an English teacher.
He would not have been annoyed.
Really, really, really, really, really, really, really not annoyed.
By my mistakes.
By my relearning.
Well, she might have been annoyed with my definition of ‘Learning.’
A definition carried forth into my teaching and eventually my school leadership.
A definition grounded in the following: knowing something that can be used without mistake again and again for the good of the individual or the community at large.
I have no idea where that definition came from.
But it has been one I have used for twenty-six years.
Did it come from my ego?
Either way, my definition of learning would have been corrected by my principal.
And would have been pointed out as inaccurate.
And very close to ridiculous.
Hence, my realization in this writing.
That learning is a process.
Not a destination.
Odysseus knew that.
Learning is a journey of things relearned.
And yet again.
I knew that.
I know Odysseus.
And is his journey.
I know learning is not on the right of the equal sign but rather the left.
A constant variable.
Humility comes in big gulps, eh?
On Monday, I will reconnect with the student I sent to the lobby.
Walking towards him with shuffling feet.
And crimson cheeks.
To redefine with him what Learning really is.
And encourage him not to feel guilty about making mistakes.
And having to relearn things learned previously.
Despite my charged tone.
And my pressed palms.
Gosh, learning is hard, eh?
And so is humility.
And so is leadership.