Monday, May 18, 2015

Why You Matter..

Like most of us, I am feeling the familiar burn at the end of the year, and beginning to doubt all the hard work put in.  Did I do enough?  Did my students really learn anything?  How could I have kept that one kid from dropping out?
These were the questions running through my mind as I drove to work this morning.  Then I took a second to skim my Twitter feed and found this gem via Shaina Glass:

It was a great reminder that the Year Is Not Over.  There is still time to make a difference, time to impact, time to learn, time to create change, and time to do more.

And then, in my first period class I encountered a second reminder.  I noticed one of my students sitting at his desk, no work in hand, a forlorn look stretched across his face.  I sat next to him and the conversation went like so... (name changed of course)

Me "Joe, what's up?  Where is your work?"

Joe (eyes watering): "It's gone. Someone took my binder and all my work was in it.  I'll just get a zero."

Me (hiding the anger I feel about the stolen work):  "Well.  You still have time, and I will let you have a little more.  No reason to give up."

Joe (stares.. ignores me)

Me (I just get up and walk away.  I want him to decompress a bit.  What should I say...I walk around and assist other students as needed.  After about 5 minutes I come back and sit next to him.)

Synopsis of longer version:
I proceed to have a conversation with him about life and how unfair it can be and how that doesn't change when you get older.  Life can be brutal, and at times almost rip you in two.  But, what we have to learn is how to overcome the obstacles and most importantly not let our emotions dictate what we do.  I tell him that I know he is strong enough and smart enough to get the work done and not to give up.  I tell him that if he needs to go the bathroom and yell that he can and should.
Then I left him alone to decide what he wanted to do.

A few minutes later I noticed him quietly writing, and I made sure to let him know how proud I was of him as he left for his next class.  He had decided to write a second version of the stolen poem.

The moral of the story isn't that I am some magical wizard who can move mountains, but that there is still work to be done.  It would have been much easier to just let him sit, or just give him a grade for the work he had completed.  After all, I had seen it with my own eyes. He is a good student and always gets his work done, why not just let him off the hook.  I mean... it is the end of the year and as one student put it "we have finished our test..what more do we need to learn?" (a comment that almost sent me off the rails, but one that resonated and helped me make sure our last lesson was a meaningful challenge)  But what message would I have sent to him, to all the others working feverishly to get the job done?  That the above comment by student X was true?? That my expectations had somehow lowered after the test?? That I didn't believe he could overcome a highly frustrating and annoying event??
As usual I was reminded how important a role we play in learning by a student.  He reminded me that our work as teachers is never done, and that we have one of the most important jobs in the world.  We shape young minds.  As I've stated before, we are the purveyors of intellect, the curators of human capitol in a variety of forms.  Each day we have the opportunity to make a difference, and so we push on.
Holding him accountable and setting high expectations forced me to do the same for myself.  I wasn't sure what to say right away, which is one reason I had to walk away.  I took time to think about how he felt, how I would feel, and what I do daily in the same situations.  That 5 minutes was crucial in helping me figure out what to say.  It is so easy when we are frustrated to let our own emotions drive us to say too little or not enough.  Letting him off the hook or allowing my own emotional state of the day dictate my response would have made me a fraud, and the students would have learned from that instead.  I thought of a post I read by Josh Stumpenhorst titled They Are Watching.  It really stuck with me, and continues to help me when I find myself struggling for the right response or reaction.

So if you too are feeling the end of the year doubt creep in or the summer slide hitting a bit early, keep your head up and remember that what you do still matters.  Even when it seems like the students are already gone and you feel like you are talking to a wall, fight on and live for the little wins.    If you start to wonder if you matter, I'm here to tell you that you do..even on your worst day.  Kids will be kids and teens will be teens, a bunch of Silent Bobs. They won't tell you how much you meant until senior year or the day they invite you to their wedding.  It might not always seem like it, but everything you do matters and each day that you choose to show up and try to be your best is a day that changes the lives of those around you.

I look to my PLN for support and strength and can say that they play a huge role in helping me when things get tough.  So if you don't have one, get one!  Thanks to all of you around the world who teach and inspire me daily:)