The Meanest Teacher In All The World

“Man!  Why you gotta hate?!”

“I’m not hating.  You’re missing a period,” I calmly replied.

“It’s just one period!  Can’t you accept it?”

“No. Plus your headers not the right size.  It’s supposed to be 12 point font.”  My student looked like he was for sure going to clobber me now, which he could have easily done since he towered over me.

“It IS 12 point font!”

“No.  No, it’s not.  Once you fix both of the problems, I’ll accept your essay.”  He let out a cross between a growl and a groan.  He was so pleased that he was going to turn in his essay early, but that’s one thing that was in his favor.  Since I caught those errors, he was able to fix them (and conceded that  his header was in 11 point font) and became one of the five students out of my 33 whose essay I accepted the day it was due.

Essay due dates are stressful for both me and my students.  My students want to unload this essay that they’ve been spending their time on, but first it has to pass inspection of its MLA format, font, overall formatting, and works cited page.  If it is not perfect, I don’t accept it until they fix it.  The thing is, I warn them.  I tell them exactly what I’m going to do on the day they turn it in.  In addition to this, I also give them the resources they need to do it correctly.  I provide tutoring, feedback, and often spend my prep helping a student with his or her essay.  They have everything they need to do it correctly.

They, however, do not believe me.  They do not believe I will reject their essay.  They do not believe my resources and opt to use impostors that lead them astray. They do not believe me when I say, “Do it just like this one,” nor do they believe me when I walk them through it. They do believe that I will “let it slide” or capitulate at their sob story or story of heroics that they “tried”.  They always have a rude awakening.  Their response to my refusal of their “best effort” is anger and frustration– while I believe it’s often at themselves, it’s taken out on me: The Meanest Teacher In All The World.  One boy refused to believe me when I said his works cited page was wrong and implied that my version of the 7th edition MLA handbook was wrong, while his computer generated works cited was correct.  He would not budge from his position, and it nearly escalated into a shouting match until I remembered that I was the grown up.  One girl made snide remarks to me about how much money it was costing her to print out numerous copies of her essay until I replied, “Do it right the first time and then you don’t have to spend so much money.”  Some students, to avoid my wrath, started double-checking their work (what a concept!), and were prepared for me, “Ms. L, I put the wrong date, my works cited is not in alphabetical order, and I messed up on the punctuation.”  Acknowledging their mistakes left them a bit more unscathed.

The problems with formatting and the works cited page reflects a greater problem of students: not using resources, not paying attention to detail, and using short-cuts.  This is bolstered by students who toe the line of acceptance and/or are used to just turning in “effort”.  Many students think they can do the bare minimum and get away with it; they don’t realize that they need to be an advocate for themselves when it comes to knowledge and learning.  One boy today didn’t advocate for himself at all when I totally forgot to check his paper yesterday.  What did he do?  He left class with his essay and went home.  Today, he turned it in late for half credit blaming me.  I apologized for over-looking him, but then asked him whose responsibility it is to make sure his essay’s turned in. Did he ever call my name so I could look at his essay?  Did he stay after class to make sure it got done?  Nope. He went home.  Today he stayed after class and fixed his mistakes.

This phenomena of not advocating for oneself and taking short cuts played out in my history class on a recent exam.  The exam was very fair, and I was quite sure they’d do well on it.  Their study guide also covered the material on the exam. The result?  My highest score was an 80% and it went down, down, downhill from there.  The results befuddled me.  How could my bright, engaged students do so poorly?  There were no trick questions.  Their scores were unacceptable, and I allowed (demanded is probably the correct term) them to retake it.  In preparation for the retake, they started to study and make flash cards and quiz each other. One of my girls reviewed her failing test and asked about one of the questions; she thought she knew the answer, but it wasn’t in the glossary.  This stopped me in my tracks, “Did you just use the glossary to study?”  She nodded her head.  I called out to the rest of my class, “Did you all use the glossary to study the first time?”  Everyone nodded their heads.  Everything made sense.  My test questions asked them to apply their knowledge and the glossary just provides the who, what, when, and where.  It neglects the hows and whys.  Their short cuts lead to failing grades and having to retake the test.  Fortunately, fourteen of them came in to retake it and all did much better.

I remember being a high school student and studying fervently for exams.  When it came to history exams, I re-read the chapters and quizzed myself. No one taught me how to create a works cited page; I had to use a handbook to figure it out.  I followed the directions and double-checked my work against the examples. My student population is more diverse and mostly impoverished, so I understand that they don’t have the resources at home, but where is the disconnect?  Where is the initiative?  Do teachers (including me) with all of their scaffolding and second chances take away the motivation for kids to learn how to do things on their own?  Is this a result of No Child Left Behind that passed failing kids along?  When is the onus taken from teachers and given to the students?  What’s frustrating is that they can all do it.  If they sat down and took their time, each and every one of them can do it.  So how do we get them there?

The White Girl

“Hey, Ms. L!  Did you hear what he called me?  He called  me the n-word!” said one of my African-American boys about another African-American boy (who also happens to be his best friend).  I stared at him.  This was another game of lets make the white girl squeamish about race.  “Oh,” I replied, not taking the bait, “he called you nice?  No wonder you’re shocked.”  It was his turn to stare.  He tried to engage me again in the “n-word”, but after my “Really?!” look, he quieted down.

There’s a lot of discussion about creating “teachable” moments about race in the classroom, but in my classroom, it’s mostly joking about one’s own race.  My students are very diverse and probably know more about other’s races than the average kid.  It’s quite often that I’m the only white person in the room.  It often seems to me that all my kids need is acknowledgement from me that I’m white.  Once a student noticed my blue rose tattoo and immediately asked if I was a Crip to which I responded with a curtsey, “I’m just a little white girl from the suburbs.”    Evidently, though, it’s not always clear.  One student  once pointed out how there were no white people in class, and some others pointed at me.  What followed was a heated debate about what color I was, because according to some, I was not “white”.   Years later, I’m still not sure how that discussion came about or why it was debated.

When I worked on my credential, one the classes I most anticipated was the one on the mullti-cultural classroom.  This was information I needed!  Unfortunately it was the worst class I ever had.  The professor had our first meeting be a three hour discussion of multi-cultural awareness: do we do it or do we live it?  I still don’t know what it means, and the question was so poorly worded with abysmal grammar, that I will never know.  He asked me, “Who is the minority in your classroom?”  He didn’t believe me when I said, “I am.”  How could I be the minority?  I’m white.  He also didn’t believe my peer– a Japanese-American teaching at an affluent school with a predominantly white population.  She was the minority in her classroom.  All we learned in that class was how not to teach.

To make up for my noodle-salad up bringing, I went to the source. My first year was spent pumping my kids for information.  We did projects about heritage and family. They brought in their traditional foods.   One girl taught me island dances. They explained what quincineras and debuts are. We looked on the map to see where they were from.  I shared my stories about growing up white (they’re amazed that I am only child and have only five cousins who do not even live in my state).  They tell  me about Fiji, Pakistan, India, Samoa, Vietnam, and Cambodia.  I tell them about far off places like Michigan.

Learning how to deal with race had it’s tough moments. One class of freshmen went through a phase of saying that everything was “racist”.  I was racist for asking them to open their books, turn in their homework, or answer a question.  I really wanted to tell them that they were really racist: they didn’t do their homework because I was white.   I didn’t say that, but it would have been nice for the shoe to be on the other foot, so they could see that racism wasn’t just something only white people do.  Instead I tried to tell them that calling a non-racist person racist degraded any valid claims they had to real racism.  It also didn’t honor the work of those who had worked tirelessly for equality, sometimes giving up their lives.  Those crusaders didn’t make the strides they did so some kids could call the wind racist for blowing.

The real lesson about race is to not hide from it.  I used to be afraid to acknowledge my students’ race– I felt like I might “out” someone.  I was also afraid to share my stories, that I would have nothing to offer them, that my past was not relevant.  However, To hide the fact or not acknowledge the fact that a student is black, Cambodian, Hmong, Russian, or whoever they are, is to deny them that part of their identity.  Being open and honest about their experiences is one way that we find our similarities.  I also have to be upfront about who I am, where I come from, and the experiences that  shaped me into this little white girl at the front of the class.

The Kids Are All Right

The dark cloud of doubt hung over me as I drove to work.  It was only the second week of school and I had been gone for two days laid up with a cold.  My voice was slowly coming back to life, but it still lingered in the ICU.  The cough, the sniffles, and the sinus pressure still hung on.  Yet at work, the homework piled up and my curriculum materials lay dormant on my desk; if I didn’t want to walk into a total mess on Monday, I needed to go in and get everything and prevent my classes from falling behind.

Then there was the thought of the subs and my students.  I knew my students were good, but I had made some parent phone calls before I left, and sometimes there’s the fall-out of an angry student.  I’ve also seen my “angelic” students who would do anything I asked, turn on a sub they didn’t like.  Then there’s the case of the seasoned sub who lost his cool with one of my more rowdy (but good-natured) classes.  Had he waited five minutes, they would have calmed down and got to work.  Instead he flipped out, got ridicuously angry, which caused my kids to lose it some more, and then got into an altercation with one of my students.  I spent a lot of time trying to figure out exactly what happened in order to determine my next steps.  While my students didn’t have model Dick and Jane behavior, they weren’t being bad or doing anything out of character.  It was the sub who flipped.

I had no idea what I would find waiting for me, nor did I know how my kids would respond to me not having a voice. What I found was both good and disheartening.  The good: two nice notes from both subs telling me how good my kids were (WHEW!).  The disheartening: the second sub was brand new and thought my detailed lesson plan (that allocated specific amounts of time to each activity) was arbitrary and proceeded to do things his way.  One of my TAs, who has a better understanding of how my class runs than I do, tried to steer him onto the correct course.  He brushed her off and said, “I got it!  It’s all good!” (which is code for “something’s going to hit the shitter”).  The warm-up he put on the board were not either of my warm-ups and had nothing to do with either of my classes.  Because of his actions, we’re all a day behind.

What made me feel better was my kids’ kindness and support.  They were all respectful, did their work and many offered to “speak” for me. When the class got to chatty, they corrected themselves.  One student said, “This activity doesn’t require talking!”. One of my students whose parents I called earlier in the week went out of his way to be helpful. Everyone worked together and got along. Two boys created a rap about my illness; one rapped that I was “fakin’ it” while the other rapped about how I was really sick.  They had me and the class in stitches. Another student showed me an app for short stories she thought I would like.   It was an amazing day.

It’s really easy to become negative about today’s youth.  It’s easy to say that they’re lazy and they don’t care and they have a grand sense of entitlement– it’s easy to say this about them because often it’s true (and I’ve had my share of them).  But kids are good, too. Most kids want an opportunity to be good and be recognized for good behaviors.  My kids reminded me of that.

A Good Start

It’s Friday evening.  I’ve had some pizza.  I’ve had half a glass of wine (it never takes much).  I’m feeling pretty good.  Overall, I’m pretty amazed at how smooth this first week back at school has been.

Normally, there is always a class that makes me go, “ugh.”  It’s either full of underperformers or has some special “gems” that love to challenge me. This week I didn’t have any of that.  All of my classes are good and have positive energy.  I do have some students who like to toe the line, but they are easy to rein in with little effort.  There were a few that I had to have a “chat” with about not turning in work, but they turned it in the next day (half credit, of course) and there was one sacrificial lamb (but he quickly redeemed himself and has been wonderfully well-mannered ever since).

What I am most amazed by is my growth as a teacher.  This is my sixth year, and every year it gets better, but I am still amazed by my confidence.  I can convey to the students that this is “my classroom.”  I don’t have to worry or be sarcastic; I can be firm and matter-of-fact.  Last term I didn’t lose my temper once (a record, really), and I feel like I can do it again.  Because of this confidence, they are less likely to challenge or question me. A teacher’s confidence breeds good behavior (not always, but mostly), and kids need to know that someone’s in charge and has their best interest at heart.

I am looking forward to this term and discovering what new things it will bring. I am looking forward to knowing where these kids are now and seeing how far they can go.  I am looking forward to the challenges I can bring them and the challenges they, inevitably, will bring me.

Microfiber Never Felt So Good

Driving home this afternoon I was pretty pleased with myself.  I left school at a decent hour and would have time to get the things I needed to get done– you know those things: lesson plan, score work and respond to student letters.  I may even have enough time to write a blog post.  It would be so productive.  I already felt proud of myself for accomplishing so much even before I began.

Here’s what really happened.  I walked in the door escaping the 102 degree heat outside.  My living room was quiet and cool as Toby lazily woke from his nap to greet me.  His wake-up yawn triggered my fatigue, and I thought, “I can be Toby. Just for a moment.”  I lied on the couch wrapping my body around his.  Not much of cuddler, he stood and stretched, yawning again to give me a good whiff of his kitty breath.  That was the last thing I remember.

Forty minutes later I became aware of the microfiber material of our sofa.  It was soft as it cradled my skin, and I didn’t want to move.  It provided the comfort that such things can only provide for the very tired.  After a summer of taking fruitless naps on the couch, this was heaven.  And I was pretty resentful of the work that lay ahead of me.  This is not good as it is only the third day of school.  I haven’t even gotten into the full swing of things yet.

The first week of school is one of the most challenging and tiring weeks of the school year– rivaled only by the last week of school.  For me, returning to work is a dramatic shift in the schedule.  I wake up super early, I go to bed super early, I have to plan my lunches and work clothes, prepare everything the night before, commute, not see my husband as much, and give up my morning walks.  Then at work I have to be “on”, prepared, organized, calm, kind, firm, enthusiastic as I meet new students and try to filter through their myriad personalities.  It’s all about vigilance, setting expectations, and establishing routine.  As much as I love teaching and meeting new students, it’s exhausting.

But my kids are full of surprises.  One of my meanest looking and stonily silent boys is actually a sweetheart.  Another who begged me in his letter to not make him read or present on account of his stutter and struggles with speaking English volunteered to go first in presenting his poster about himself today.  One of my goth kids spoke with sensitivity about his view on life and how if you “judge a book by its cover without even being willing to glance at its table of contents, you lose on the whole story.”  This made all of the girls go “ahhhh!”  Another quiet boy recited his poetry…. again eliciting “ahhhhs!” from the girls.  My history students are enthusiastic, even as I taught them note-taking strategies.  One of them also quickly grasped how the early British colonies in America laid the foundation for the American Dream.  Overall, besides my really loud and obnoxious boys, everything’s been going well.  It is however, quite tiring, but it sure does make the microfiber feel so good.


Can You Hear Me Now?

I’m a special needs teacher– not that I teach kids with special needs– I, myself, have special needs.  I’m hard of hearing with little hearing in my left ear and about 65% in my right.  I wear a hearing aid in my right ear, and most of the time everything sounds like it’s coming from that side.  It makes life interesting. Especially when I spend the majority of my day with teenagers.  Who. Can. Be. Oblivious.

My first group of students didn’t get it.  I told them about my hearing and what I needed them to do, and it literally fell on deaf ears.  Kids mumbled.  They spoke without raising their hands, so I didn’t know who spoke.  They got frustrated with me.  One kid refused to repeat himself, and when I told him that I was interested in what he had to say, he responded, “I don’t like to say things twice” (hint, then don’t go into the teaching profession).  If I asked for things to be repeated they rolled their eyes snidely retorting, “never mind.”  My level of frustration was through the roof.  After another “never mind”, I let loose.

“Look guys, I can’t hear.” I pulled out my hearing-aid. “See, I’m not kidding.  I can’t hear.  It’s not my choice to not hear you.  I’m not joking.  This isn’t fun.  I need your help.  I’ve told you I need your help. What do you do?  You roll your eyes.  Refuse to repeat yourself.  Cover your mouths so I can’t see what you’re saying.  Mumble.  Say “never mind”.  Look I need your help.  I takes a lot of energy to hear what you are saying.  What if I treated you the way you treat me? What if you asked me for help and I rolled my eyes at you?  If I knew exactly what you needed, but refused to give it to you because I didn’t feel like it?  Have I ever done that to you?  NO.  I’m sorry that I can’t hear.  I’m sorry that you have to deal with it, but I have to deal with all of the time.  The least you could do is help me.”

I stopped when one of my students began to cry.  Life got better after that.  It wasn’t perfect, but my louder students repeated what the soft-spoken ones said. Students pointed to the student who spoke, so I had a frame of reference.  When I asked, “who said that?”, the speaker happily raised his or her hand.  There were still some challenges in other classes.  I caught one kid making fun of my hearing and I skewered him: “Do you think you’re the first person who’s ever made fun of me?  You’re not.  The others who have made fun of me?  I don’t even think about them.  They mean nothing to me.  Do you want to be in that group?”  I joke about my hearing with my students so I can laugh at myself, but one student took the joking too far and wouldn’t stop until I asked him if he wanted a referral that said he was making fun of the hard-of-hearing teacher.  He got the picture.   I’m not this harsh or direct in every instance. I know the kids who will respond to it, and then there are others who I ask to stay after class to discuss their behavior.

After my first term I needed a way to get my kids to understand what I needed from them.  Just telling them the first day didn’t work.  They didn’t pay attention. I needed a more formal means of communication and decided on writing them a letter to give them on the first day of school.  In it I wrote about my life, my hobbies, my education, and my hearing. I clearly laid out how much hearing I have, what I do to hear them, and what I need them to do for me.  On the first day of class we read the letter together.  They all absorb the information, and I think seeing it in print makes it more real to them.  Afterwards they can ask questions if they want to.  Then I ask them to write me a letter all about themselves and their challenges.  Their letters are candid and many of them share their struggles and what they need help with.  It is their moment to tell me about their quirks.

The letter hasn’t been a fool-proof solution– nothing in high school ever is, but it’s helped a lot.  When a student doesn’t help me, the others are quick to admonish him or her.  They have even said, “Dude, remember the letter?”.  There are other benefits from reading their letters: I learn all kinds of stuff about them. They share some of the most amazing experiences to the most trivial of details (“I like purple shoes!”).  Some tell me who they have problems with in class, so I know not to seat them together.  The best part is knowing what their interests are, so when I explain things in class I can compare the concept to their interest.  I often will talk to them about their interests as they come into class. Letters help build those teacher-student connections that are so vital for classroom success. After reading each letter I write a couple of comments, so the students know I read it, and then hand them back.

On my desk is a new letter to be read with the class on Monday, and I await to see what my student’s responses bring.

Readers: What do you do to help build connections with others?  Or Teachers: What effective strategies do you have to build connections with students?  What classroom challenges have you had to overcome?

Reaching New Heights

Bridges, Chicago’s Hancock Building, the Space Needle, and the Empire State Building all terrify me.  Like many, I have a fear of heights.  The fresh air, the wind in my hair, and cars the size of bugs do not exhilirate or inspire me.  Instead I cry for the feeling of terra firma directly under my feet, not thousands of feet under.

Now my fear has not stopped me from driving on bridges or from going to the top of each structure.  I am normally with other people, and I do not want to limit them with my irrational phobia.  This summer is going to provide me with the ultimate challenge: the London Eye.  The Eye is a mega-ferris wheel in which people enter glass bubbles and can see all of London around them.  Basically you’re floating in air and can look straight down. This time I will not be with eye-rolling friends and family, but with students.  I want to convey to them that they need to try new things when they have the opportunity to do them, and not be haunted by the “I shouldas”.  When I went to Europe the first time at age 15, there were some opportunities I passed up that I regret today.  One being not going to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam and the other was refusing to join a Spanish tour group in flamenco dancing.  I was too shy and afraid of embarrassing myself.  Not dancing is my biggest regret. Unlike Anne Frank’s house that I can still visit, my time with the Spaniards was a once in a lifetime moment.  What was the worst that could happen?  I would make a fool out myself in front of people who would never see me again?  Most likely they wouldn’t have cared and would have been happy that I joined in.  And what a story it would make!

So I think of Beryl Markham who flew solo as a bush pilot in Kenya and her reflections of looking at the world below.  I think of all of the people at the 1893 World’s Fair Exposition wh braved the first Ferris wheel.  I think of looking at Big Ben from a bench along the Thames and from up in the air.  I think of my students and the lessons they will learn from my example.  I think I might just do it.

Related Articles: 

People: You Might Just As Well Meet Some of Them

The London Eye: Taking it all in from above

A Big Glass Of Wine

Today marks the end of my fifth year of teaching.  What is remarkable is that I’m going back next year for my sixth.  Why is this remarkable?  Statistics show that 50% of teachers leave the profession by their fifth year.  I made it.  I survived. That said, I’m uber-tired and I understand why some don’t go back.  It takes a l0t out of you.

This has been an incredibly emotional and stressful week.  My sleep has been poor– my body has been waking me up at ungodly hours in the morning, which is really ungodly, since my alarm is set for a time that is ungodly to most.  When I don’t get enough sleep, I get a massive headache that spans my shoulders, my neck, my skull, and everything it contains.  Then there’s the goodbyes.

Our music teacher is leaving us, and on Monday I went to see her choir students perform.  In her group is one of my goofballs who I wanted to support.  My doofus who is disruptive and weird in class had a SOLO while he was holding hands with a girl (all things I never thought possible).  He looked proud and was professional.  My thoughts included, “Who the hell is he?”, “Wow, he’s good!,” and “Why the hell doesn’t he act this way in my class?”.  The rest of the show was amazing, too.  They sang Broadway hits and ended with a medley from Phantom of the Opera.  Pardon my language, but my only thought about the whole show was, “Holy shit!”  They were good.  The tears flowed when during the end all of the choir alumni who were in the audience flash-flooded to the stage to pay their former teacher their respect.  The stage was full of current and past students letting her know how much she means to them.  After the show I went backstage to find my doofus, and many of my former students were there and then I was showered with hugs. I found my doofus, congratulated him on his performance, and he, too, gave me a hug.  The next day in class he was the most accommodating student ever.  It turns out that I had to say good-bye to him also, since he will attend another school next year.

Then there’s my seniors.  Yesterday was spent at graduation practice as rehearsed our roles and responsibilities.  I volunteered to be a reader of names as the students went to get their diplomas.  I had hoped to read one of my all-time favorite’s (aka. “niece”) name, but I still had many students who I adored names to read.  The microphone was just a bit too tall, so I stood on my tip-toes to reach it.  Looking at all of my kids getting ready for their big night made me teary.  Then last night was the real deal.  The stadium was packed with families with posters, signs, and cow-bells (which I have determined are just as annoying as wind chimes).  Everyone was so excited.  The kids smiled so brightly once they spotted their parents and family cheering them one.  Their excitement was palpable.  I read my names to the cheering crowd without screwing up too much.  Afterwards we all congregated outside as students found their friends and teachers to take pictures with.  I saw more former students and said goodbye to the graduates.

One of my students wrote me a touching note in my yearbook, but she had forgotten to give me a graduation picture of her.  Somehow, she gave a photo to her cousin who hunted me down during the ceremony and managed to get the picture to me.  Up until that point,I had had no idea how much I meant to her.  I found her afterwards and she was in an emotional state.  I tentatively went up to her and her family and she rushed toward me, gave me a hug, and sobbed into my shoulder. Out of all of my five years of teaching, I don’t think I’ve been moved by anything more.  Tears still come to my eyes as I write this.

In this midst of all of this craziness and goodbyes, I still had essays to grade, scores to enter, a classroom that looked like a tornado hit it to clean up, and my sophomores who still needed my attention.  It was all a bit too much.  One of my sophomores who also loves ducks, but who wouldn’t speak even if you held a gun to her head (not that I tried), came up to me after school Wednesday with a package of three rubber ducks: a cheerleader duck, a princess duck, and a surfer duck (none of which I had). She said, “This is for you” and gave me a hug.  Today I pointed out how they were now integrated into my duck collection and she uttered her next two words, “I noticed.”  Then I graded their To Kill A Mockingbird projects, and all of them did really well.  Normally there’s some crap in there, but this time everyone did a great job.

Today was a fog of cleaning up and trying to make sense of my room.  I was, frankly, too tired to deal with it.  I tossed a lot out, dusted some stuff, but my cupboards are a mess.  Finally I said, “screw it” and left for summer break.

Now I am at home with my hubby.  He has poured me a big glass of wine.  And you know what?  I deserve it.

As We Send Them Off…

As I wrote yesterday, the class of 2012 is quite remarkable.  Tonight we are celebrating their accomplishments and the ending of an old life and the beginning of a new one.  To my graduates I’d like to share this little nugget:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. —Mark Twain

Having A Senior Moment

Tomorrow night is graduation and I will have to say goodbye to my students who have been a part of my life for the last few years.  As they get their diplomas and set sail off on their new journey, I feel like I am left behind on shore.  The past few days they have streamed into my classroom giving me pictures and notes, signing my yearbook, and imploring me to “not forget them.”  I sign their yearbooks and pose for pictures while giving them those teacherly words of wisdom while hiding the fact that I will be lonely without their presence on campus.  I am seriously going to miss them.

I started teaching in 2007.  As a new teacher I hadn’t found my niche in the school.  I just tried to wade through my curriculum and get a hang of classroom management.  I advised a couple of different clubs, but nothing seemed to gel. This changed when I became part of our school’s Health Career Academy and became an advisor for HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America).   My role was to assist with the academy and teach a cohort class. I got my first group in the fall of 2009; they were all sophomores in my English Honors class. I had never met such a lively, motivated, and positive group before.  Everyday was fun.  I taught, they learned.  I assigned; they embraced.  I presented an idea; they ran with it.  I went with them on field trips and attended their meetings.  Then in the summer of 2010, after the state leadership conference where one of them qualified for nationals in Orlando, I was chosen to escort her.  She and I left as student and teacher; we came back “niece” and “aunt”.

That fall my “niece” was the president of Academic Decathlon and they needed a new coach.   Now I have been coaching AcaDec for two years, and had the opportunity to meet more students.  In my first year I took 41 students to competition, and this year it was 57.  My team met twice a week practicing speeches, interviews and essays while studying the art, music, history, literature, and science of specific time periods.  These kids love learning.  Tomorrow, half of my team is graduating.

In the 2010-2011 school year I taught a cohort of juniors American Lit.  This year I decided to take on a new challenge and teach seniors for the first time.  In my three classes I had many familiar faces from the last two years and many more new faces.  They rose to the challenge of media analysis, creative writing, literary theory, OthelloPride and Prejudice, and Like Water For Chocolate while writing five essays for their senior portfolio.  Everyday there was laughter and probing of ideas.  Even though my spring term students got hit hard by senioritis, they managed to pull it together and pass.

Through all of this I’ve watched them grow up and try new things. They made plans, got jobs, and dealt with time management. I’ve seen hook-ups and break-ups, making new friends and falling outs. I did my best to challenge them and they, too, challenged me.  So tomorrow night it will be bittersweet as they receive their diplomas.  We both have worked hard to get them to this point and beyond. As their teacher and advisor,  I feel like I have grown up with them and found my place in my school. They will leave and I will stay.  Where are they going? Stanford, Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, the CSU’s, the US Naval Academy, the armed forces, and community college. This graduating class is going places.

Where will I be?  Back in my room with my sophomores to begin this process again.