Saturday, May 31, 2008

Last Call

Yesterday was the last day of classes in the upper school. There are still final exams, the prom, and graduation to be celebrated, but classes have ended. All week there has been excitement in the halls and it bursts out on Friday. We have Honors Convocation, which is an awards ceremony that features broad smiles (and dressed up teenagers). It's a nice way to start the end of the year.

I always enjoy the last week, and not just because summer vacation beckons. For me, the last week is a reminder to stop and appreciate the progress and accomplishment of the year. One of the best things about teaching is that as my students change I can truly see the accomplishments ---- the improved analytical skills; the better-written paragraph; a greater level of interest; a little more self-awareness.

The last week features all of that and some winding down. We linger over conversations, aware that though many of us will be back in September, it will be in different combinations. So there is something bittersweet in it all. This year's 2nd period will not be the same as next year's and in the last week, I take some time to appreciate what I've enjoyed about the year.

From the moment a student walks in the door of our school, whether in the 9th grade or the 1st, it's understood that one day they will leave. My job is to do part of the work to make that happen; so that when they walk out our door they are ready to succeed elsewhere. It's an interesting job in that way, because the projects are evolving all the time.

And I guess that's the challenge and joy of teaching. The work is always in flux; always in progress. Like the students themselves, things change. The lesson that was perfect last year doesn't go well this year. The best-laid plans are discarded because the students have far more questions about the Vietnam War (or whatever topic) than I expect. The Democratic primary doesn't end when I think that it will. A fellow teacher (who also writes about teaching) has pointed out that it's an art and a science. I couldn't agree more and I would add that the art and the science are incredibly demanding, often in unpredicatble ways.

So I am always glad for the break. I think that it's necessary. All of us need some rest and relaxation; a chance to refresh our energy for the exciting and enjoyable challenges (both predictable and unpredictable) that September will inevitably bring.

1 comment:

J.Bro said...

Art and science is exactly right, and I think it's why so many of my colleagues are brilliant researchers or statisticians, but abject failures in the classroom. I've talked to quite a few of them about it (sometimes informally, sometimes formally, like when the department asked me to mentor some first-year TAs) and the prevailing attitude among struggling TAs seems to be frustration.

Not the frustration you'd expect, though - mostly frustration at the students, who they blame for not understanding them. "I'm making myself perfectly clear, so I don't know what their problem is," is a common sentiment. But I've also done TA observation, and man, some people just don't have the art end of it down at all.

The thing about the art end of things, though, is that I don't think it has to be inborn. I think it's totally possible to learn that side of teaching, just like it's possible to learn the material, the policies, the science side.

I hope so, anyway, because I'm not satisfied enough with my teaching to stop learning how to do it better.