Transcript of a class

Joe and I have been talking about ways to document what goes on inside Sunday school classrooms. Joe is doing his Ph.D. in education right now, and one thing he has been doing lately is videotaping experienced teachers. Eventually he plans to produce video teaching tools to help new teachers learn how to teach.

This past Sunday, Joe hitched up an audio recorder to me while I was teaching our middle school group (“Purple class”) about Quakerism, in preparation for a field trip to a Quaker meeting that same morning. I decided to transcribe that audio recording to help me reflect on my teaching — what do I do well, where could I improve? The transcript appears below.

In the transcript, I recorded names of specific young people in the class where I could identify their voices (of course I have used pseudonyms), and one thing I noticed is that of the dozen or so kids in the class that day, most of my direct verbal interaction was with the same half dozen kids. I can hear the other kids talking in the background, but they don’t directly respond to my questions. Thus, one thing that I would like to improve is the number of young people with whom I have direct verbal interactions. (In the transcript below, my words are in italics.)

The transcript is long, but if you read through it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Obviously, a transcript like this does not convey tone of voice and body language, which means you’re missing some of the most important stuff that went on (and that’s why Joe is making videos of teachers). Nevertheless: What do you think I did well? Where could I have improved? Leave your answers to these questions in the comments below.

So we’re going to this Quaker meeting, and I want to do a little preparation for you guys.

— [Heather] Can we practice? [i.e., can we practice sitting in silence]

No, we’re not, actually. So we’re, um, I wanted to tell you a little about George Fox who founded Quakerism, who lived in the 1600s in England. And this is from a biography of George Fox which was written for people your age, who was a former college professor of my father’s which is a weird connection —

[George Fox] was an unusual person, different from others as a boy, and he remained different from others in his older years. He had almost no education. He never learned how to write well…. He lacked the skill and refinement which a good school might have given him. But in spite of his peculiarities and this lack of education he knew and love outdoor Nature; he possessed great native gifts; he read the Bible until he almost knew it by heart; he had an honest, sincere soul; he was a born leader of men [sic]; he had a most remarkable experience of God; he was ready to go through fire and water to perform his duty, and he won the love of men in an extraordinary way….

There are all kinds of heroes, but every hero, to be a hero, must face danger bravely. He [sic] must forget himself and live greatly for others. He must win for the race something that has not been won before. He must act so as to make his life and deeds an inspiration to those around him and to those who come after him. On all these counts I think yo will agree with me that George Fox was a hero. One trouble with us, both young and old, is that we are inclined to take the easy way of doing what others do, of sliding along the smooth path that people in general take, of going with the crowd, and of having little power of decision, and choice of will. It is worth while to stop now and then and read about one who could stand out alone and decide for himself what he believed was right; who had a moral backbone in his frame and who did not say things or do thing just because that would make him popular and give him an easy time. The greatest thing about George Fox, and the most heroic thing, was his conviction of duty and his obedience to it. He seemed to hear a voice speaking in his soul, and when once he felt sure what course that voice inside pointed out, he took it forthwith, in spite of all obstacles and in the face of difficulties and dangers…. (Rufus Jones, The Story of George Fox [New York: MacMillan, 1919], pp. x-xi.)

So one of the things he believed very strongly was he believed that you should not fight or engage in war of any kind. And he would also not take an oath; like if you go into court, you’re supposed to take an oath — you know, you put your hand on the Bible and say, I swear to God blah blah, he would not do that because he believed that that was wrong. It actually says in the Bible that you’re not supposed to take oaths, so he refused to do it. And he was actually imprisoned for that.

— [Jeremy] Wait. Why do you have to put your hand on the Bible in court? So you, so that you —

To swear, swearing to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth — I don’t know if they use a Bible any more, but they used to.

— [Jeremy] I know, but it’s like, today it’s like it’s so multicultural, it’s kinda wrong to —

I know. But even in his day, he felt it was wrong. You shouldn’t force your religious beliefs on other people. [Turning to a girl] Yes ma’am?

— [Elaine] What! You called me Franny. You’re supposed to call me Elaine!

Elaine.

— [Another teen] He said, “yes ma’am.”

I said, “Yes ma’am.”

— [Elaine] Oh. So. So, I heard from my friend that apparently you don’t have to use the Bible? Like you can use your religious book.

Right. Or — if you’re a Quaker, you can just promise to tell the truth and not swear on anything. But that is really, George Fox was really the one who set us up for that.

Let me just tell you some of the other things he did. Back in those days, you would say — you know the words “thee” and “thou,” the old words in stead of “you”? Right. So when I’d be talking to a friend, I would say “thee.” [Turning to to one of the other adults going on the field trip] Uh, thou have nice shoes on today, James.

— [James] Yeah, my Sunday best.

Right! Whereas when you’re talking to someone who’s a superior — like someone who’s socially better than you — you would say “you.” So George Fox refused to say “you” to anybody. And in fact, down through — I knew some older Quakers when I went to a Quaker college, and some of the older Quakers still said “thee” and “thou.” They refused to say “you.” And many Quakers today will not use any honorifics. So I would not call Craig [another adult going on the trip] “Mr. Lewis.” I would refer to him as “Craig Lewis.”

— [Liz] That’s how we do things now. Like back in my mom’s, like when my mom was a kid, they would say, uh, Hello Ed and Marie, can’t you stay for dinner, you say, Hello Mr. and Mrs. Graham, may we have the pleasure of staying for dinner?

But! The Quakers would never — not never, but many Quakers would not say “Mr.” at all, because they felt that that’s setting somebody — They believe that, they would strongly believe that everybody’s equal, so they didn’t want to use any honorifics that would make you seem better. Yes ma’am?

— [Heather] My dad, he was like saying that like you sit in a room, and you’re not allowed to talk unless you think the spirits want you to talk, or something? So —

“The Spirit moves you.”

— [Heather] Yeah. So is there like some conversation going on that like you don’t raise your hand you just talk when you want to? Or is it like —

I’m going to get to that — [looking at the clock] — I will get to that, I just want to — I’m leading up to that, I’m trying to give you some background. [checking my notes to see what I can leave out] So, and then the — in fact that goes exactly into my next point.

So one of the things that George Fox was very firm about was that everybody has equal access to God. So that there should be no ministers, and no priests, and no worship leaders. So the way it works is, everybody present is leading worship; this gets to your question, Heather. There’s no minister leading things the way Amy does, it’s everyone present — silently, waiting expectantly (I think that’s the term they use) — and if you are moved by the Spirit of God to speak, then you would stand up and speak. Or as they might say, “offer vocal ministry.”

— [Franny] Are we allowed to sing songs?

— [Unidentified teen] No.

Um, I would strongly recommend that on your first visit to a Quaker meeting that you do not offer any vocal ministry at all, that you should —

— [Franny, giggling] I could sing my stinky little farm song.

I understand, but I think —

— [Franny] It would be so awesome!

[Gently] I don’t think it would be awesome, I think it would be humiliating for you.

— [Franny] Yeah! [laughs]

So, but having said that, that does lead to a good question. Sometimes the vocal ministry that people will offer is that they will sing. Elaine?

— [Elaine] OK! So what happens if you have to like burp, or pass gas, or whatever.

People do that all the time [laughter], and just everybody ignores it. It’s not like, it’s not like — yeah, you don’t have to worry about that. They understand, we’re all human beings.

— [Fred] I’m sorry, you cannot breathe because you are making noise!

No, but that is a good question.

— [Unidentified teen] Are they like, hah hah?

— [Laura, another adult on the trip, responds] My stomach growls a lot, I’ve noticed, in the [Quaker] meeting —

— [James] Are meetings [unintelligible]? I wasn’t here last week.

— [Laura] I went to Quaker meeting through college. I’ve been to some Quaker Weddings which are really quite, uh —

Yeah.

— [James] So my question was, so like are these things really spontaneous, or — because it’s always on Sunday, right, so could you be thinking all week and like prepare a [vocal] ministry?

That’s actually an excellent question, and in fact Douglas Steere, who taught at the Quaker college I went to, wrote a book. And he said typically you should be spending the week preparing for meeting. And so he suggests a discipline of daily prayer, and maybe reading. Now some Quakers would be very Christian, and some are not Christian at all, just like with us Unitarian Universalists. So some Quakers might read the Bible to prepare for meeting, and some would read —

— [Unidentified teen] The dictionary!

Not the dictionary —

[A late arrival comes in to the room]

Hey, Sally! Did you bring me a permission form?

— [Parent] Yes she did.

Ah, bless your heart.

— [Franny] I have a question.

[Gets permission form, turns to Franny] Franny?

— [Franny] Oh, oh, are we going to go in the kids service?

— [Unidentified teen] Oh, that would be so —

So here’s — here’s [looking at clock] — that’s a good question, so let’s talk specifically about the visit, because we’re going to leave in about five minutes. They [looking at notes] I was in conversation with them — after their meeting for worship, they have meeting for business today, um, which we are not going to go to, although that would be very interesting. Um, so they’re all going to eat lunch before they go to meeting for business, and they asked us — they were sooo polite — but they sort of said, How much do you folks think you’ll eat? [scattered laughter] And I said, I’ll tell our people that you, that we will eat very little.

— [Unidentified teen] Wha–?

So you may take one thing —

— [Laura] One cookie —

— [Unidentified teen, in mock dismay] What? [Groans]

And — when we come back here, there will be lunch today.

— [Unidentified teen; Jeremy?] Oh, it’s second Sunday lunch —

— [Unidentified teen] Yay! [clapping]

So let’s be really firm about that, just take one thing. Second: I think it would be good for us to split up.

— [Unidentified teen] No!

So some, some of us want to go to the whole hour’s worth of silent meeting. Who wants to do that, raise your hand?

[Elaine and Jeanne raise hands]

OK.

— [Unidentified teen] That’s kind of scary.

That’s great, so we’ll go in for the whole meeting.

— [Jeremy] Um, I don’t think I can sit for a full hour.

— [Unidentified teen] I know, I —

— [Fred] I don’t think I —

I know, hold on, hold on! Hold on. Do you have a question for me? No.

[Interruption while another parent drops off a permission form.]

So — this is good, so the rest of you will — they’re going to have some of their middle school and high school kids there — Jeremy.

— [Jeremy] Sorry.

And what we’ll do is those of us who are going to go for the whole hour-long meeting will go in together. And the rest of you will go to meet with their kids. And then, uh, you’ll come in for the last fifteen or twenty minutes of silent meeting. That’s an opportunity for you to ask questions. Um. Who’s got good handwriting?

— [Franny] Me! I do, I do, I do!

Franny, go grab a marker.

— [Franny] OK!

And we’re going to come up with three questions that we would like to ask of them about Quakerism. And this is, you’re asking other kids your age.

[Conversations in background]

All right, who’s got a question? Raise your hand. Heather?

— [Heather] Why don’t we get to talk?

That’s a really good question!

— [Unidentified teen] That is!

— [Unidentified teen] What does it mean?

Let’s put it a little, let’s put it a little —

— [Laura] You mean, why [unintelligible] silence?

So why don’t you talk?

— [Craig] During the service?

Yeah! I think that’s an excellent question.

— [Unidentified teen] Maybe they’re all mute people.

I know! But that’s, that gets at what’s distinctive about their meeting. Excellent, Heather. Jeremy?

— [Jeremy] How are your snacks, on average, on a scale of one to ten?

Oh, —

— [Unidentified teen] We’re not asking about snacks.

That’s kind of goofy.

[General chatter]

Hold on, hold on. Liz had something. Please raise your hands.

— [Liz] What do you feel when the Spirit moves you?

Excellent question! What do you feel when the Spirit moves you?

— [Craig] That’s a great question.

Last question, raise your hand if you got one. Heather, you already did one.

— [Heather] Yeah, I already had one.

[Silence]

If nobody else chimes in, Heather, you get to raise, you get to give your other question. [Pause] Heather, go ahead, what’s your other question?

— [Heather] I kind of forgot it.

OK.

— [Heather] But I think Penelope has a question.

Penelope?

— [Penelope] I don’t know.

Jeanne?

— [Jeanne] Like maybe something about how does the Quaker, um, the connection to Nature how do you —

— [Unidentified teen] How do you feel —

— [Jeanne] — how do you deal with that?

— [Unidentified teen] Yeah, how do you enact that?

Is there a Quaker connection to Nature — because —

— [Unidentified teen] How do you connect to Nature?

Yeah, because George Fox had one, so there’s a question of, Is there still a connection to Nature? I think that that’s a good question. Yeah?

— [Unidentified teen] Is there still a connection to Nature?

Yeah. What’s your connection to Nature, the natural world? James?

— [James] Well —

— [Franny, still writing] Wait, what should I say?

“What’s your connection to Nature?” — or ask Jeanne, it’s her question.

— [James] I’m wondering about — sorry I wasn’t here last week, because maybe you talked about all this — but I’m wondering about their belief system, because you said some of them are more Christian, some of them are less Christian. So is there some sort of common belief system?

I think that’s an excellent —

— [James] I mean, God, the afterlife, all that.

I think you should bring that question — I just want us to have four, er three questions that we know we’re going to ask. And then when you guys are talking to their people, ask them other questions. Um. [Reaching for handouts: wallet cards with the seven principles on them] Then, one of the things they’re going to ask us what we’re about, so I’m going pass around these little cards — everyone — give them to —

— [Sally] Are these the seven principles?

Yeah, they’re the seven principles. [Chatter as the wallet cards get passed around.] Because I don’t expect you to memorize the seven principles, because there’s no way I’m going to memorize the seven principles. Jeremy?

— [Jeremy] Wait. This has nothing to do with anything, but the bottom of my shoe is in the light, and it’s reflecting green on my hand.

That’s really cool.

— [Jeremy] And it’s like scaring me.

— [Unidentified teen] It’s like, your foot’s like [unintelligible].

[Chatter as the wallet cards continue to be passed around]

All right, you guys ready to, uh, get moving?

— [Unidentified teen] Yeah!

Jeanne?

— [Jeanne] Are there people to ask about [unintelligible] the origin of the [unintelligible]?

No, but we’ll find out about that. So I think that the really good thing — thank you for bringing that up — [turning to a side conversation] Excuse me, excuse me?

— [Unidentified teen] Shh!

Thank you for bringing that up. One of the reason we’re going to split up is so that you guys [pointing to Jeanne and Elaine] can experience the whole hour. And then when we come back to talk about this, we can trade information back and forth. So I think it’s actually going to be really good for us to trade off. OK.

[General chatter as class moves out the door and heads to the cars.]

Crossposted here.

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