The dynamic in this year’s class is very different from last year’s, largely because of size. We went from 22 in the class last year to 7 in this class this year (a bit embarrassing to admit, I agree, but there is a valid reason that it’s that small and that it ran: because of a new scheduling system, 5 students dropped the day before school began because of a scheduling conflict).

So last Friday we had a particularly unproductive day. Now, granted, it was last block on a Friday and we had rotated out on Thursday, so that didn’t entirely surprise me, but it did make me think about my role in productivity and the lack thereof.

We meet in a conference room with a big table that essentially takes up the entire space, with me at the near end of the table and everyone else around (including the other end). But this set up means I have nowhere to go. I have to be at the table with the students; I can’t remove myself to let them work without my (passive) presence. Last year, with 22 in a traditional classroom, I could sit at the back and be out of sight but still within earshot and speak-shot.

So today I figured I would remove myself. I gave the students a few options: I could leave the room entirely and go to the room across the hall, or I could sit at the table with my headphones and be there but shut off. The students came up with a third solution: put me with my back to them in the room at the countertop with my headphones on. So that’s what I did. And it seemed to work out. I didn’t hear much but I could tell by the end that they were much farther along than they had been when we began.

I think we are very nervous about not only letting go but also the perception from others, either fellow teachers or administrators, about the amount that we are working. (I was secretly hoping that an administrator would pop in just for the shock value.) But ultimately we have to do what’s best for the students, and for this project my presence was hindering them. By removing my (figurative) presence, I let them be more productive. And I’m ok with that.

I had one of the students take some pictures of my set-up: