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Pair Work

1. No more pair work

In normal years, my classroom is organized as pairs of students sitting at two-person tables. Sixteen tables, each with an A-P letter boldly written on a piece of paper taped to the tabletop aforemost (the taping having been performed by some eager student/assistance at the beginning of the year, a trick shared with me by my cousin/teacher/mentor during my first year).

“Work with your partner to answer this question…”, I say. And after waiting for a while, I loudly rattle my can of popsicle sticks, each one lettered A-P and draw one out.  (Loud rattling is crucial as it elicits an instant Pavlovian response from everyone, and presto all eyes are on me.) I read the stick and call on that table.

“Table J, what do you think?”

Either student may answer. They may consult and then answer. One may whisper to the other who answers. They may ask neighboring tables for help.

You get the idea. 

2. It’s on me

For obvious reasons, that’s not what we’re doing this year.

As a consequence, they don’t do pair work, and I haven’t been sufficiently diligent in finding a substitute. Frankly, getting the basics of a functional COVID era “classroom” consumes so much time that … our diligence is spread mighty thin.

Isn’t that a lame thing to say?

I am reminded of an evening in the 80s when Reagan’s Secretary of Education, Bill Bennett, was talking on the News Hour about teacher salaries. I cannot for the life of me find this quote documented anywhere, and I have looked over the years. But I can see his face hear him speaking.

“Look,” he said. (He usually started out that way.) “If teachers are worried about salaries, they’re in the wrong line of work.”

Breathe in. Breathe out.

My point here is that you might level similar criticism at me. If you’re worried about free time, you’re in the wrong line of work. Except you see that this isn’t about “free time”. I get home. Sit down for the first time since 7:00am. Eat a delicious meal prepared by my fair and industrious, work-from-home, geologist, kitchen wonder-maker spouse. Wash the dishes. And work on lessons until it’s around midnight.

So it’s not that I don’t want to spend my free time being diligent. New teachers, seasoned teachers, substitute teachers, any teacher this year will tell you: there’s not a lot of “free time” in these times of Covid.

Still, I accept that this is on me. 

3. I’ll take it

I wish it weren’t like this, but there you have it. No pair work this year.

But then one day… The kids are practicing for 15 minutes at the end of class — time to get late assignments finished, time to get ahead on tonight’s work. I hear two of them talking.

“So would it be like this?” the first one asks. “Like there’s this one and then there’s this zero and another zero?” 

“Kinda,” the other student says. “But notice there’s a minus here, so actually it would be…”

There’s a moment of silence.

“Ohhh…” the first one says.

I’ll take it.