This is the latest in a series of blogs from the teacher cohort.
By Kristen Fischer
“None of Them Knew the Color of the Sky”
What does it mean to not know the color of the sky? This is a question my students pondered one year while studying a short story, Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat.” Thepiece of literary naturalism exhibits classic markers of the genre, especially as it is set in a seemingly hostile or indifferent universe. In summary, a small dinghy hosts a small group of men after a shipwreck, and the plot details their struggle to fight the elements and reach shore; the text offers the opening line that “none of them knew the color of the sky,” subtly implying the exhaustion and limited perspective of those facing an assault from nature in their insufficient vessel. When I think about teaching, it can feel like being a character in Crane’s story. Sometimes, I feel I don't know the color of the sky.
Surely, you may think, in a battle for survival, one has more to worry about than the color of the sky. Who has the luxury of contemplating the such trivial scenic matters? What help is the sky in a battle waged upon the sea? On open water, if you can't see the sky, and are barely afloat in a tiny rowboat, perhaps there is a feeling that a moment’s hesitation of looking up means one less bucket of bailed out water that hour, disrupting the tempo of fatigued yet numbed muscles; thus, to know the color of the sky would be to risk inevitable defeat. Is knowing the color of the sky necessary or even advantageous? Probably not in this case, practically. But figuratively, the sky represents perspective, and the time to contemplate the sky’s color represents an opportunity to investigate and reflect; not knowing the color of the sky symbolizes one’s physical and mental disempowerment.
Sometimes, as teachers, I think we become so immersed in our own struggles to manage the workload and related challenges that we don't have time to look up and see the sky. For us, that means we don't often enough investigate and reflect on the curricular potential of our surroundings, whether they be our colleagues, our campuses, or our communities. It's not that we don't want to: we don't think to, or we don't have the resources to do so. While options for increasing relevance and application are adrift in the currents that surround us, the choice is between attending to the pressing next “bucket,” or dabbling in the seemingly dispensable contemplation of potentiality.
The opportunity to contemplate potentials has been one of my favorite aspects of The Fluency Project. I’ve enjoyed the access to resources such as colleagues, tools, readings, inspiration, models, and time. The perspectives I've gained thanks to my year with this project have led to experimentalism and reflection for both myself and my students, and ultimately have increased relevance and engagement in my coursework. The work we've done on CMU days has both concretely and theoretically changed elements of my teaching. So often, district-driven professional development must yield to tides of bureaucratic burdens--SLOs, Assessment Anchors, PSSA proctor training, Common Core, whatever--and a whole day of time results in nothing that changes the next day’s or next week’s instructional quality. Just as Crane strongly suggests that the universe is indifferent toward the plight of the men, so too does it often feel like those housed in the educational heavens are indifferent to the innate creative problem-solving abilities of--and tangible impacts sought by--professional educators. Or perhaps they simply also don't know the color of the sky.
This is already too long, so I'll not share my conflicted feelings about how the oiler’s fate may or may not be relevant to this discussion, but I'll instead conclude that I am grateful for the experiences I gained from The Fluency Project, and the opportunities it offered me to know the color of the sky.