Those wonderful days of summer…you know the ones I’m talking about. The ones where your schedule isn’t wrapped in routine, you can actually take your time doing things, and you can take a few minutes for an adult conversation.
I recently had one such day as I dropped my son off on the north side of town at a friend’s house. As luck would have it, another friend and his mother, Jenifer, would be arriving within moments of our car. It was that opportune moment when you could actually spend some time reconnecting with others.
The topics of conversation ran the gamut, but there was one story that stuck with me. Jenifer began describing her time as a television journalist on assignment in Russia. The setting was a Russian airport. She described the language barrier, the lack of organization, the overall manic situation, and the frustration of it all. She described how she just wanted to stand up and direct people where to go, help them form lines, ease their frustrations. Reflecting on the conversation, I wondered, what does this say about us as Americans? What does it say about us as creatures of habit?
Fast forward one earth rotation to a lazy afternoon on the couch as the novel turned movie plays on repeat – a work of classic literature, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Among the outstanding characters, contradictory plot lines, and comedic genius is the line, “Leave this to me. I’m British. I know how to queue.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTartgZ6n9Q
That’s two references about standing in line in as many days.
Why do we stand in line? I’m an elementary teacher. There is absolutely nothing innate about standing in line. We are selfish creatures. We see something we want, and we want it immediately. Over the years, we learn that we have to preserve the order. It keeps it safer for everyone involved if we wait our turn. There’s no need to rush the water fountain – we can count to five for the person in front of us, and then we can have our equal turn.
Eventually, all this standing in queue gets us frustrated. Like the cunning beings we are, we begin to devise ways to thwart the system. Eventually we learn that yes, we can tolerate waiting on others, but there is one position that is to be coveted. That position is the last in line. The person who is last in line has preserved the order, but has learned how to work around the system. There is no one to count to five. They will get a turn that will be longer than everyone else.
The remainder of the students begin to notice that others are vying for the last position. Some will pick up on the rationale immediately and will do the same. Others will ask why it’s so important to be last, and there will be those who simply don’t care.
The adult in charge will notice the commotion and will do one of two things: assign spots in line to maintain a firm rule, or work with the students to better assess their needs when they are at the fountain.
I think these last few years teachers in Oklahoma have become fed up with standing in the queue. The longer we’ve been in the position, the more we’ve noticed how restrictive the rules have become on our actions. We’ve had iron fists double down on maintaining order, and we’ve had some stellar leaders jump out of line and head to the rear in an effort to retrain our focus. I think the effort from the line hoppers is working. We have state leadership that is willing to better understand the needs of public schools, the students and teachers. We have district and site leadership that is willing to push back quite a bit more when policies and procedures aren’t in the best interests of the students. Lastly, and probably the most important, we have associations of parents who are willing to raise their collective voices to announce the need for change.
As your school year begins, it might be time to ask yourself, where do you want to be standing in line?