Students, In Case You Were Wondering…

Friday’s events have served as a catalyst for educators all over the country to reflect and write, and while at this point I feel like anything I have to say is just white noise, if there is one thing I try to teach my students, it’s that writing can help us process.

So I write to them tonight.

Students, in case you were wondering what class will be like tomorrow, it will probably be as normal as possible. If you have specific questions or concerns, of course we will talk about them, but like with other tragedies I’ve encountered in my teaching career, I’ve learned that moving forward can actually be healthy.

Students, in case you were wondering how someone could do this, the answer is I don’t know. Sometimes in life, that’s the only possible answer before us, even if it’s not an option on a standardized test (and it won’t be an option on your finals this week…sorry about that…)

Students, in case you were wondering what I might do in a situation like Sandy Hook, or Virginia Tech, or Columbine, you should know that I’d do whatever it took to protect you. Just like teachers have in all of these unthinkable situations–we want you to be safe, to live long lives, to be happy. I would do everything in my power to make sure that happened.

Students, in case you were wondering why I come to school every day, it’s because of you. I’m certainly not there for the money or prestige, but I am in room 116 every day for you. And I know that English or Pop Culture or even Newspaper at times seems like the least relevant part of your day, but I try to make it relevant, and I hope you learned at least one thing this semester.

Students, I do love my job. I might not love the remaining research papers I have to grade, but I love our discussions. I love seeing you grow as writers. I love writing letters of recommendations for college admissions and scholarships, and I love even more when you burst into my room to tell me you won what you applied for. I love watching your sporting events, your concerts, your plays, or just running into you at your place of work.

Balancing the events of the weekend with those of the coming week might, to some of you, seem trivial. And I get that. But I hope you let yourself enjoy Spirit Week, and the West-East basketball game, and that you study for finals and look forward happily to 16 days of no school.

Students, take care of yourselves this week, and in January, we get to embark on an adventure…

The Perfect Antidote

It is 4th quarter, and in a year with no snow days, that means that all of us–teachers, students, probably even administrators–are more burned out than usual. I have really great students, but they are increasingly enticed and distracted by the warmer weather and the promise of summer.

Plus, it’s deadline week and one editor is competing at DECA nationals and the other editor is competing at Metro track (thank goodness for a WONDERFUL staff that picks up all kinds of slack), so I’m feeling a little more frustration and stress than usual.

But today? Today was thank you card day. The senior English teachers have their students write thank you notes to teachers in the building who impacted them for good. So when I went to the office after school, I found a couple of really, really sweet thank you cards from students.

Also in my mailbox was a message from the NSAA State Journalism director letting me know that another one of my students qualified for State Journalism next week. My mood at this point? Sky-high.

I stayed at school late working on the newspaper, hit the gym on the way home, and when I picked up my mail, I saw a letter from the journalism institute I applied for two months ago. I prepared myself for rejection, but as I unfolded the letter, I saw “Congratulations” instead. I’m heading to Austin in June to learn how to be a better newspaper adviser.

I needed this B-12 shot in the arm of goodness today to get me through the next three weeks. I have much to accomplish in the next three weeks (including keeping a positive attitude in the face of increased distraction) and today reminded me why I do what I do, and why I love it so much.

What I Loved About School Today

1. Watching a video a student made for the video yearbook. It is sweet and adorable and so clever.

2. Talking to my editor-in-chiefs about how to improve Newspaper.

3. Watching a student design a logo for a major project we are working on. I gave him a cookie. And a piece of chocolate.

4. Visiting with two alums who stopped by to say hello. One even brought chocolate. She knows me well.

5. Receiving the nicest card anyone has given me…my friend Nikki gives me way too much credit.

When we finished speeches in my 7th hour, my students said, “Now it’s your turn!” I hedged a little, but part of my teaching philosophy is to never ask my students to do something I wouldn’t do myself.

So I took a minute, jotted down three ideas, and delivered a speech about my fears.

They gave me a 96%.

(I said “uh” once or twice.)

Usually at this point in the semester, I am pretty burnt out. Last night was newspaper deadline–which we met–and I have a ton of grading to do, and I should plan next semester (five preps!). But I am eerily calm and finding happiness in my classroom. I don’t know if my age is mellowing me, or if I just have some of the best kids in the school, but whichever it is, I’m definitely not complaining.

The Most Insane Thing I’ve Done in My Career.

Not that you noticed, most likely, but I’ve yet again neglected this little blog. But today calls for some major educational reflection, so I’m back. But let me explain what I’ve been up to the past five weeks.

First, I participated in National Novel Writing Month for the first time, and did so successfully. That means I wrote 50,000 words (or 173 pages). I didn’t write a novel, I wrote a memoir, and it was physically and emotionally draining.

Second, as is my custom each November, I post on my personal blog every day, usually about whatever I’m grateful for that day.

Third, I was getting students ready for the most insane thing I have done so far in my teaching career–a school-wide research fair for the entire junior class.

See, I somehow convinced my compatriot junior English teachers (all SOOOO much smarter than me) that we should try Challenge-Based Learning for the research Essential Objective. So we overbooked and overworked the computer labs and encouraged our students to engage with the community and today we threw open our doors and let parents and administrators see what the end product was.

It wasn’t a failure…

But it wasn’t without its frustrations, either. Oh, technology…as my dad says, “It’s grand when it works…” The kids had created movies and Power Point presentations highlighting their research. Most of them were so very good. But nothing seemed to work.

And the kids, bless their hearts, are so used to technological frustrations, that they completely rolled with it. Even without the crutch of a video, they could talk about their research, about what they learned, about how their research changed them.

I still have a long list of what I’d like to do better and differently next year–if my peers are up for it–because I know I can do better.

A final note: today I got to see first-hand just how amazing my fellow junior English teachers are. Wow. They put me to shame in what they did for their students. I really feel like the five preps are stretching me so thin that I’ve just become mediocre at everything. Seeing what my friends’ students did inspired me to be a much better teacher than I have been lately.

Which makes this research fair a complete success.

Pulled, Yet Resilient.

All day today, I felt pulled.

My plan period, 1st hour, was unproductive.

My 2nd hour Newspaper class–when I usually sit at my desk and read draft after draft of stories–had me on my feet for 45 solid minutes. Camera check-out. Helping with PhotoShop (which I’m not good at), then helping with Illustrator (which I’m worse at). Looking up student schedules for interviews. Answering questions.

And every hour, it just seemed to get worse. At lunch I was trying to tell a story to my friends and I couldn’t order my sentences in a way that created anything resembling humorous impact.

By the end of 7th hour, as I walked down to the mandatory end-of-day study hall, knowing a student would be coming to me for help with an essay, I thought to myself: I just need five minutes. Five minutes to tidy my desk, or read something I want to, or talk to a colleague. I need five minutes before talking to any students. 

I took some deep breaths, worked with the student, then stared blankly at my computer screen until the school day was over.

I drove home, feeling pretty sorry for myself. I’m tired, I’m overwhelmed. I feel ineffective in my classroom. So I medicated with some leftover Indian food and some DVR-ed shows, and then the text arrived, and Twitter exploded with news of Steve Jobs’ death.

Like millions of others, I never knew him, but his life impacted so many. And I’m sure he had frustrating days, but he didn’t get his name on 313 patents by medicating with Indian food and last night’s Daily Show. He impacted so many lives through work and hope, by refusing to give up.

So I’m taking another deep breath, prioritizing my to-do list, and figuring out how I can best impact my students’ lives. How I can help them be better writers. Better people.

Thanks for everything, Steve.

David Carr of the New York Times tweeted this eloquent summation: “Jobs’ legacy winks light from every shiny wonder he put in out eager hands.”