Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Butterscotch Candy

I’ve listened to the fabulous Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs speak many times, and frequently studied her work.  When she speaks to groups of educators, she always places an empty chair next to her as an honor and representation of the child we must always consider when we think about teaching and learning.   These words are from Dr. Jacobs herself, in the first part of her book, Getting Results with Curriculum Mapping: 

For many years now, whenever I work with a school or district, we begin the workshop or meeting by placing an empty chair in clear view of all participants. We envision that a student sits in that chair. We even use the first name of an actual child who attends the school—perhaps it's Johnny, Maria, Abdul, Megan, Tyler, or Janice. All our work that day must focus on Johnny, and all comments and questions are welcomed as long as they are in his best interest. We may disagree about what is in his best interest, but we do not lose the student as our perspective. Success really does come down to the critical point whereby we are working for specific learners in specific places to meet their specific needs. 

You can—should!— read more here.

Not long ago, I was setting up for a presentation of my own.  The conference hosts had placed little white bowls of candy on each table.  I dug through and came up with a butterscotch; without thinking, I unwrapped it and popped it in my mouth.  Except when I actually tasted the candy, I stopped—it brought me right back to being a student, which makes sense, because I don’t think I’ve actually had a butterscotch candy since I was, like, eighteen. 

Tastes, smells, sounds—they can trigger recall, and transport us right back to a different time; they can make us remember how we felt, what was important to us, what worried us, and why. 

In high school, I loved butterscotch candy.  I remember working my way through a bag of them as I studied for the ACT, using them to keep the anxiety and worry at bay as I prepared for this nebulous exam, and all it meant about what came next—telling myself I’d be okay but believing I wouldn’t.  I kept them in my backpack, treating myself to them between classes, hiding them from teachers who enforced the no-candy rule and sharing them with those who didn't.  It was a sweet memory, laced with the gift of retrospect.

And I thought:  This is my chair.


On the way home from the conference, I stopped and got a boatload of butterscotch candies.  I’m going to keep them in a bowl my office for the next month or so, as I plan and prepare for another school year, keeping with the spirit and insight and wisdom of Dr. Jacobs.  They will represent studenthood—a memory of what it’s like to be sit where they sit.

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