After the glow wore off the Sunday brunch buffet and the meat that was called chicken became intolerable, my brother and I were pumped to be living off campus in our own house. No longer were we beholden to Donovan (the lovely RIC cafeteria) where you couldn’t get dinner past 7:30 pm. We had our own place with our own stove and microwave and cabinets and spice rack. We were free to make our own food decisions!
And also get under each other’s skin.
You see, we shared responsibility in the kitchen. But other areas of house maintenance lingered without discussion between us. I would complain to a mutual friend about the way he heaped his stinky clothes everywhere but the laundry basket, while he complained the to same mutual friend about the way that I left my hair tools (and maybe a few stray strands) in the bathroom each morning.
We weren’t in tune to each other’s thoughts and both characterized the other as messy, lazy, and inconsiderate. We wasted our energy feeling frustrated instead of just sharing what was on our minds.
Leonard and Sheldon share some pent up roommate frustrations.
In the case of my brother and I, we hit a roadblock because we were not sharing our frustrations with one another. We didn’t know what was going on in each other’s brains. How could we learn to live with one another peacefully if we didn’t share what we were thinking? (Luckily we had our mutual friend let us in on each other’s complaints and we negotiated various chores and responsibilities.)
Reading theoretical texts like this can be overwhelming because Nakkula and Toshalis show that there is so much to consider about adolescent development and it can all seem so abstract. Their assertion that “optimal coauthorship can only occur through collaborative mental engagement and the open, transparent negotiation of meaning” (9) is a mouthful, but makes so much more sense when you realize that “collaborative mental engagement” and “open, transparent negotiation of meaning” is really important in any relationship - between teachers and students, siblings, best friends, and especially significant others.
An important difference between the story of my brother and me is that we are essentially equals. I am older, but I am not professionally responsible for him or his development. I found that Nakkula and Toshalis really emphasized the responsibility educators have to create rich experiences that allow students to productively imagine themselves and their worlds (5). There is a lot of power that comes from being in such a position. So what does it look like to “encourage and even join them in their experiments in possibility development?”
Luckily, Ayers included Katie and Mayra’s story (110). Katie recognized that “the full development of each is necessary for the full development of all” (72) and created an experience that would allow Mayra to imagine herself as a valued individual and allowed the other class members to imagine themselves as integral to a supportive community. I think Nakkula, Toshalis, and Graves would agree with Ayers example of Katie as a great teacher because of the way she “engages students, interacts with them, draws energy from them, and offers reason to plunge into classroom life,” (97) rather than leaving kids to invent ways to avoid showing their incompetence (like Antwon).
I strive to be like Katie. I believe that learning happens best when a class is a “close-knit, spirited, and coherent group, brought together by collective interest and enthusiasm” as her class was (110). But I recognize this is a work-in-progress because the community is not dependent on my imagination alone.
Sheldon trying to create a friendship based on his imagination alone.
Instead, it is a co-construction with each student and the universe they bring with them. Some days I absolutely feel like Ms. Peterson, aware that something isn’t clicking with a particular student but unsure about how to reconcile with a mind that I can’t read and an identity that seems so different from my own. But I keep going because I can't imagine my world without teaching and learning.
Sheldon struggles to imagine a world without his best friend.