My AP asked me what the best thing about my first year was in my end of year review. I said something about how I loved teaching writing--that I felt I came up with engaging writing assignments and motivated poor and excellent writers alike. But, I spoke too soon. The two best moments happened on the last day of school.
My biggest goal as a teacher, my "philosophy of teaching" if you will, is to show kids how to learn on their own. I would rather my students feel like they have control over their learning--know what inspires them, how to find information, how to process and develop critical thinking skills--than know my students are able to regurgitate the difference between expository and descriptive writing. On the last day, I received a small clue that maybe I'd had some success.
I assigned a very open-ended project for my ninth grade honors final. I told them that we'd spent all semester learning how to approach different genres of writing, how to make meaning from the text and connections to real life. Most of the time I'd been walking them through the process, and now was their opportunity to read a text, dive in, and "show me what you've got." They were a little nervous. I was a little nervous.
The first couple days of, gasp!, unstructured time didn't go so hot. I watched as several members of the class milled about the room. One kid played the guitar for awhile. Another kid went to sleep. I considered scrapping the project idea, leading discussions for the last few days and giving a nice, easy multiple choice scan-tron final. But, I didn't. Instead, I gave a pep-talk, and they got their act together.
Groups of 3-5 tackled either a theme or a character from the book of their choice and prepared a 10-15 minute presentation for the class. A couple groups made power point presentations, one group led a nifty songwriting activity, one group made an imovie (about naturalism vs. technology!), and one group created an "character experience" by bringing in objects to represent their character and made-up artifacts from the book (and cookies!). Though I was sitting there with a nasty ear infection and no hearing in my left ear, I was beaming. But, wait, that's not the best thing.
During one of the presentations, I had to go to the bathroom. The group had just handed out a survey that the class was to complete and then discuss. I told them that I'd be right back and bolted off to the bathroom. Unfortunately, the closest bathroom is all the way on the other end of the school, so it took me a minute to get back.
God bless that minute, because when I returned and opened my classroom door, I saw the most amazing thing--everyone seated (except for the presenting group), 10 eager hands in the air, listening avidly, avidly I tell you, to the conversation. As I slipped into the back of the room, Holly, one of the presenters, said that she was sorry they didn't wait for me. I sat down in the back and watched as these three girls led a really good discussion about their theme--one of the best we've had all semester. Almost everyone contributed something, and they felt ok to disagree with each other--but only after hearing each other's logic.
I was, like, totally unnecessary.
The other best moment came to me when my 3rd period class let out, and one of my ninth grade girls came came up to me with a little present. I really tried to connect with this girl this semester because she was new to the school and all out of place. Her mom is totally brilliant, and they've lived all over the world. She'd just gotten back from living in London, and she came with all the emotional baggage of her broad cultural experience and her past hyper-progressive education to good old public school in the South.
While adjusting to her new town and school this semester, she read the complete works of Dickens in her spare time. She answers all my many grammar questions. But she laughs when I tell her that she's gonna be an English professor. She plans on being a professional cellist.
She gave me a journal with kitties on it. On the inside, she'd written a note.
For Ms. Hipteacher,
I have genuinely enjoyed being in your class. Out of all my teachers, ever, you are one of the best teachers I've ever had. Your passion for your profession is a great gift. When I first came to _HS, I didn't expect to stay, or even like it. I felt like no one could understand what I've been through (But those thoughts gradually stopped). But now I've learned that some people are worth getting to know, and to let people get to know me. I've finally let my guard down! Anyways, just wanted to let you know how much I loved your class.
I read her note after she left, and I just sat down for a minute. I looked at my classroom--all the desks, the posters I've put up, all the random masks and visuals my students have created--and I realized something.
Even though this is the hardest job I can imagine, even though I've walked around in a state of perpetual exhaustion all year, and even though I used to make more money answering the telephone when I was sixteen, I have the best job ever.
It might not happen every semester, or every year, but it can happen. I can be that teacher--the one that makes a difference.
Hot damn! One year down.