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.”

Not Knowing It All

Today I was lecturing my Pop Culture Studies class about sit-coms. We talked about the different kinds of characters present in sit-coms and how they’ve changed over the years. And when I got to the section about 4-camera vs. single-camera shooting, I completely blanked.

I could not remember when the first single-camera sit-coms were done.

But I know what my favorite single-camera sit-com is (Sports Night!) so I took a deep breath and said, “I don’t remember when they first started, so if someone finds out, let me know. But I’m pretty sure Sports Night was one of the first single-camera sit-coms.”

About five minutes later, a student in the back raised his hand.

“Um, single-camera sit-coms actually started in the mid-80s. It says here Doogie Howser and The Wonder Years were among the first single-cameras.”

Oof. How could I have forgotton Doogie? And Kevin and Winnie?!

I thanked the student for correcting me and moved on with the lesson. Here’s the thing: I wasn’t then, and I’m not now upset about the exchange. In fact, I’m a little pleased. I admitted in class that I didn’t know something. I invited students to find the answer on their own. And one actually did. Isn’t that what education in the 21st century looks like? At least a little?

Sure, it was a little humbling, but it really didn’t bother me. Should it have?

When They Return.

Today was the third day of school, and for my newspaper staff, that meant being taught how to take photos and use new cameras. But I wasn’t the one to teach them.

I asked a former publications staff member–a rather talented photographer–if he would come in and give a few basics on the camera’s functions, as well as tips for photo composition. He created an excellent Keynote presentation, brought props, and he spoke with an authoritative yet friendly tone.

It was perfect.

As I sat at my desk watching him, and watching my current students, I was once again realized how privileged I am to do what I do. Three years ago, this photographer was a student in my honors English class. He was always agreeable and never a behavior problem, but like many of my juniors, I couldn’t help but worry a little about his tendency to be a little shy. Watching him teach my newspaper staff today, I am so proud of all he’s done since he graduated from high school, and so excited to see what else he will do.

Moments like those are the intangible benefits of teaching–to see a student enjoying his life and sharing that joy with others. It’s difficult to articulate exactly how it feels, but I’m sure the other teachers out there know exactly what I mean. 

Sentimental.

A boy I once dated told me, “You shouldn’t become a teacher. You get way too attached to people.”

That was 13 years ago, yet I remember his accusation with clarity. His analytical, computer-science brain could not understand why I was distraught over saying goodbye to graduating seniors at church, with whom I worked in our youth group. I don’t remember how I replied to him, and I can’t remember if he even consoled me. But every year near the last day of school, his words invade my psyche, and I wonder if he may have been right.

I’ve said goodbye to too many students to count since then, and it never gets any easier. 

Tomorrow is the last day of school. I am giving a test in three classes, and have activities planned in the other two. It will be a pretty normal school day for me, and at least for the 47 minutes they are in my classroom, a pretty normal school day for my students. Some students accuse me of having a “regular school day” on the last day because I am mean and don’t like my job.

It’s actually quite the opposite. If I gave in to the trappings and last-day-of-anything sentimentality, I would be a wreck. Keeping a normal day keeps me from getting hyper-sentimental–that’s something I prefer to do in the company of like-minded teachers, or in the comfort of my own home.

I can’t wait to sleep in later this week–I’m so tired right now that it’s amazing I’m still awake and formulating semi-coherent sentences at 9:30 PM–but every year, it takes me a week or so to not miss my students. To not miss the kids who come in every day and say hello, or the ones who say “Have a nice day” as they walk out the door. To not miss the laughter they evoke. To not miss the occasional surprise when a student thanks me for being a teacher.

That boy, 13 years ago, did not understand the joy and fulfillment that comes from allowing people to become a part of his life.  Even if only for a short 180 days, if I let them, my students leave indelible marks. They teach me how I can be better next year. And sure, with joy and fulfillment, comes a little bit of heartache when I send them off to senior English. 

But I wouldn’t trade any of it. It’s who I am, it’s what I do. I’m so glad I ignored that boy’s advice and became a teacher.

I can’t imagine my life any other way.

Good Things

It would only be fair if, with as much attention I’ve given to the darker side of teaching, I give equal screen time to the positive happenings in and around me recently.

Today we had some great conversations about Catcher in the Rye. I laughed. My students laughed. Many of them–I could tell–are caught up in the reading! I enjoyed teaching today. 

My GPS (a mandatory study hall at the end of the day) has made me laugh every day this week. Once it was when a kid started to call me “mom.” 

The juniors who remain in my media studies class spent time preparing lesson plans–they are teaching class next week. 

One of my good friends staged an intervention between me and my AP students. They apparently were concerned at my recent irritability and frustration, so my friend (who teaches AP Calc and has about half of my class in either AP or PreCalc A) hijacked the first few minutes of class to tell them, “She’s tough because she cares! If she starts ignoring you, that’s when you need to be worried!” And then she handed out lollipops.

Former students, home from their first year of college, have stopped by to say hello; seniors who graduate on Saturday have stopped by to say goodbye, have written thank you notes to me for being their teacher.

And I’m starting to feel the excitement of the end of the school year–not because I’m tired and can’t wait to sleep in (although that is definitely a plus), but because I’m excited to get on with the business of making what I do better for next year. 

I think that’s my yardstick to measure whether I’m ready to retire: if the prospect of summer doesn’t motivate me to make my classes better, then it’s time to find something new. I hope that won’t happen for many years.