"At first, the differences between us were fascinating. They watched as we danced. They walked while we skipped. They jogged, then ran, then sprinted to the point of collapse as we sat cross-legged on the edge of the field, chewing on grass and twisting stems into little rings around our fingers. They knew how to make grass whistle, how to cup it between their hands and get it to scream. But they did not teach us. They were on the turf, casting sidelong glances in our direction, watching the way our fingers bent blades into knots too small for them to see."
I’m going to get to the summer, and I’m going to enter my cocoon of reading, and I’m going to miss something important. There’s a question here at the end of the year, under the surface of all the stress and deadlines. How can I be a better person? How can I be better at life?
I will most likely squeeze by and feel okay about this year, about how it ends. My mind will mend itself like a muscle after extreme exertion. It is good. And I will be a little better at my job next year for the lessons I’m learning and reflecting on now.
Work is part of who you are, no matter what importance you give it. It is an indicator of the spirit with which you encounter and embrace life. I need to learn more than the lessons of the mind.
(#come back to this)
I know I will resent this if I don’t talk about it, so let’s get it out of the way.
My students do more work for their elective class than they do for mine. They push harder, put in more hours. Our elective teachers can say, “You need to work from after school until two in the morning,” and our students will be like, “Yup!” Our students will turn in low quality work for their “core” classes if they have deadlines they need to meet in their elective courses. It’s awesome that our kids are well prepared to be competitive in the video/digital media market, but they are severely behind in their language arts and mathematics skills. We’re getting better, but in previous years our best kids (hmm…leaders in their electives?) have had to take remedial courses when they’ve gotten to college.
I will take ownership of this in a second. First, though, I’d like to vent a little. I know it’s cliche to say that electives have a natural draw because they’re more fun/closer to what our students want to be doing with their time and they’re courses our students have chosen rather than courses students have been made to take.* With that in mind, I wish our elective teachers wouldn’t push quite so hard. Okay, that’s just professional jealousy. Let me revise my statement. I wish our elective teachers could help us push the skills our kids need to be competitive in any field they later choose.
Ownership time. I need to be better. Not more perfect. More inspiring. I need to meet my kids motivations. I need to show them how language can be empowering. I need to show them that the old stories and verses are exciting and that the new interpretations are part of that excitement.
I think part of the challenge is that the goal is bigger than this, though. I want my students to be able to choose and choose wisely. I don’t want to be a salesman for my content area. I want to sell them on their prerogative. I respect that they choose their elective work over the work I ask of them. I worry that they’re not always making that decision for the right reasons. Maybe I need to be a “salesman” for those reasons.
*I think students should be able to choose all their classes. I also think we need a system besides grades, but that’s another conversation.
My students took the AP exam yesterday, which was why most of my seniors weren’t “in class.” Our school doesn’t currently have a general policy about students in AP classes who don’t take the exam. I had six kids (of sixty) choose not to take it for various reasons. Scheduling conflicts, etc. I was troubled by that, but not overly worried. Our AP coordinator told me we couldn’t make the exam mandatory, so I didn’t mention it to my vice principal or the counselor I work with.
Then exam day came. I felt relieved that it had finally come. I was nervous about how well my students might do, but I felt I had done all I could. At least, there was nothing else I could at that point. Except I had a handful of students decide not to take it at the last minute. That was not a option we had discussed. They were supposed to have told me weeks ago. One student was just plain absent. Another came an hour into the test. Then there was the girl who I talked to outside the testing area. She was freaking out and I couldn’t get her into the room.
I realized at that point that I had messed up. I showed them how difficult the content would be, but I hadn’t built them back up or emphasized the importance of testing yourself. The score matters, sure, but what’s more important is the experience of successfully completing a challenging, tedious, lengthy assessment process. If I had discussed the exam with them differently (correctly), they could have felt good about having taken the test even if they don’t get college credit for it, in the end.
The bottom line is that my students’ attendance issues at the AP English Language and Composition exam represent a failure on my part. I need to be better. I will be better. The first step is encouraging the further discussion of a shared policy and letting my students know from day one. The second and more important step is taking my teaching further from the test. I don’t think I did horribly this year, but I did tend toward teaching to the test at times. I taught to the test. Another statement I never thought I would make.
Changes to be made. Mistakes are good because you can learn from them, even when they feel disastrous, even when they’re as high stakes as my students’ lives and educational futures and even their self-esteem to an extent. I didn’t build them up like I should have. That sucks. Learn from your mistakes, I tell my kids. I need to practice what I preach.
I just woke up after four hours of deep sleep. I’ve been waking up around this time. It’s time I get back to sleeping six to eight hours a night.
TODAY was the last day of classes for this year’s seniors. I didn’t cry or anything because, as ever, I had so much to do. I teared up a little on Wednesday, which was the last day I really had all my seniors in class. We had the traditional celebration for seniors at the end of the day. The senior walk, we call it. There were some tears, some hugs, a lot of singing. A few students came to hang out in my room afterwards. We shared kind words, happy ramblings. One of them stared at the desk in front of her in kind of a trance. “All the work is done.” The underlying question was: what do we do with ourselves now?
“Time to get a job,” was the conclusion.
I did a little work. Cleaned up the way a number of my assignments were organized online. A parent who works on campus came by. “Still working?” “I’m heading to the senior luau in ten minutes here. You?” “Movie night with the juniors.”
I don’t think I’ve ever been to a real luau before. I mean, fake-real. Baudrillard would have a field day with the dancing done there. A trip through Polynesia. Ha. But it was good getting to hang out with some of our seniors. A few spontaneously hugged me on their way out.
I’ve worked with these kids for three years. It’s going to be so weird not having them on campus next year. Some of them have told me they love me, and I’ve returned the sentiment, but it bears repeating. I love these kids. There may be better students, calmer students in other classes, but there will not be students I have cared for this much, not in this amount or fashion. I love these kids! I hope I showed them enough throughout the three years, through all the lessons I’ve tried to teach teach them and the learning I’ve tried to facilitate for them. I hope they know.