Thursday, September 11, 2014

Going the Distance
Now that my husband and I are "empty nesters", my departure time for school is no longer set by one of my kids catching a ride with me.  I usually arrive in my classroom sometime shortly after 6 am, and try to leave by 4 pm.  It doesn't always work, but I am trying, hard, this year to make sure to keep some personal time in my life.  For those who aren't teachers, you need to know that there is a certain sense of calm-before-the-storm that exists in the early hours before school, and a what-the-heck-happened? that happens once the big yellow buses pull away.  It's that magical time where teachers connect with each other for advice, to cry on a shoulder, or share a laugh.  It's a time to create order out of disorder, and to try to set things in such a way that the next day will be as successful - or more successful - than today.  It's easy to say that the favorite time of day happens when you are in control of your surroundings, and 6 am and 3 pm seem to represent that time.

So you'll be surprised to know that my answer to today's Te@chthought prompt does not, in any way, represent the reflective solitude captioned above.

September 11
What is your favorite part of the school day and why?

My favorite part of the school day is when I see connections.  Amazing, genuine understanding flashing across the face of one of my students  learners.  Or, perhaps, the look of astonishment followed by a flurry of paper to capture the thought in writing so it can be explored in greater depth at another time.  It's being able to bear witness to insight beyond what I can possibly hope to come from a simple assignment -- a project that generates such awe that I am breathless, or, better yet, speechless.    That part of the day when the lesson plans are pushed aside and replaced by learning that no one could have anticipated.

The really cool part about this is that I can't wake up in the morning and say "I love the kids in my third period class so that will be the best part of the day,"  or "that small group will be the highlight of my day,"  or "LUNCH is always enjoyable" because of the fun I have eating with a special group of colleagues.   Imagine if my favorite part of the day happened before 10 am?  How incredibly dismal would the rest of the day seem?  

In this blog yesterday, I referred to Zach.  He has been a student of mine since first grade, and is a senior now.  He has also described himself as lazy.  (To be honest, I thought so, too.)  He's the type of kid that succeeds without effort at everything he does.  Imagine my surprise when he opted to do his final "This I Believe" project as a TED Talk style presentation.  (If you are unfamiliar with "This I Believe" and work with high schoolers, I highly recommend the NPR Series and curriculum by the same title.)  

Before the presentations were delivered, I was home recuperating from knee surgery.  My substitute had the honor of witnessing these presentations first hand, and I was fortunate enough to be able to listen to the MP3s by most of the learners, and watch the videos of those who had chosen the TED model.  When I watched Zach's, I sobbed.

Sure, it may have been the painkillers, or the incredible sense of loss I felt by not being able to complete the year with my kids,   I was an emotional wreck for a variety of reasons.    The real reason is that Zach's project gave me a primo example of the favorite part of my day.  Here we are four months later, and I still well up when I think of the statement that Zach makes in this work.

I've shown the video (with Zach's permission) to some of my classes this year as a means to change the mindset of kids who are trying to gain the ALMIGHTY A on the rubric into one of personal best.  Today Zach stopped me in the hall and inquired as to whether I was able to finally figure out how to embed the video here last night.  (I wasn't. The file is too big!)  I can only imagine that this means he agrees that his voice on this issue needs to be heard by a wider audience.

I'm hoping this link works.  I'm also hoping that you sob, just a little, when you realize that this was an assignment prompted only by the phrase This I Believe, and the topic was self-selected.   This independently-chosen topic was life-changing for me, for Zach, and, I hope, for you.

It's moments like these that define my favorite part of the day.  I'm pretty sure the "why" is evident to anyone privileged to witness learners in action.


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