May can be a desperate time for teachers. We’re just…tired. Fall asleep on the couch after dinner, mainline coffee, bargain with the snooze button, barely recognize your own family, exhausted.
Just think, in the time that it takes to carry a human baby to full term (Baby Ruthie, I’m looking at you), most of us have carried somewhere around 150 (if you’re lucky) students through the year. To clarify this gestational metaphor – by carried, I mean taught. And by taught, I mean pushed. And by pushed, I mean (occasionally) dragged.
Amy wrote about it last week. The crack up. The point at which it all becomes too much and you start to question if you taught them anything. If they are better in any way. If you reached even one. If you’ve been talking to yourself for the last nine months. Because with the approach of graduation, and summer, and sweet, sweet freedom, the opportunities to make that difference seem to dwindle. Students are paying less and less attention these days, to school anyway, and when coupled with the somewhat spent enthusiasm of teachers, the chances of academic magnificence begins to allude us. Which, unfortunately, makes us even more tired.
However, because we care, sometimes to our own detriment, we don’t give up. Amy, unwavering in her commitment to use every last moment, wrote about this too. It’s the moment where banging your head against the wall one last time means you break through instead of breaking down.
In my own effort to keep the spark alive, I have my students working on final projects that demand they keep reading and keep creating, right up to the end. Additionally, inspired by Shana’s brilliant use of former students as an engaging resource, I called in a heavy hitter.
Austin Bohn, graduate of Franklin High School in 2013, reached out to me a few months ago with the following email. What followed is an exchange of ideas that solidifies for me that our students often don’t truly see the impact that our classes can have on their lives, until after they’ve left us. Austin has always been inquisitive, insightful, and personable. As a college student, I see in Austin the exact type of young man that we hope our students become – thinkers who value where their reading lives can take them.
Lisa, (because I get to call you Lisa now),
Austin and I continued exchanging emails for several weeks, and when he expressed interest in coming to observe some of my classes and share ideas about college life, reading expectations at the collegiate level, and explore the possibility of teaching someday, I asked if he would like to come in and serve as a motivator for my AP classes,
post test. Austin had been in my AP class and knew well both the project that my students
are working on and the difficulty to focus when the end is so very near.
Two weeks ago, we made a plan for Austin to come in, share some of his insights and experiences as they relate to college level work, chat with students and provide ideas as they craft their final projects, and observe.
What turned out to be the added bonus, and one that’s already had an impact on my classes, was Austin’s book talk on Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. I wasn’t familiar with the text, (a book that details a man’s encounter with a gorilla who has all and none of the answers about life), but the impassioned argument Austin made for reading the book and what it can teach you about thinking, struck a cord. Specifically, with another young man in my AP Language class.
Bennett Dirksmeyer is a thinker too. A quiet, careful, deep thinker. When he emailed me the day after Austin’s book talk and told me that he went right out and bought a copy of Ishmael, I was excited for him. To be honest, whenever a book talk “works” I get a satisfied nerd-smile from ear to ear.
So, three days later, when I received the email below indicating that Bennett had already plowed through Quinn’s text, I was floored.
The email below made me cry. Like, A Monster Calls, breathless sobbing (not because I’m tired, or not only because I’m tired), but because this is what we all want. Out of workshop. Out of teaching. Out of life. Out of the end of a long, hard school year.
And no, I don’t mean we all want the email exactly (though I would be lying if I said that hearing a student’s gratitude doesn’t feel amazing), but we want students to grow in their thinking. Challenge themselves, push themselves, take risks, stay up late reading, and come away with new ways of processing this crazy life.
Here is what Bennett sent (with some enthusiastic bolding by yours truly):
I closed Ishmael at 3:35pm today. After reading, with unexpected vigor I might add, I began to wonder why I plowed through it so willingly. Throughout my reading I thought, and thought, “Why am I liking this?”, “What is making me do this?” It is an important text. It deals with issues leading to very serious implications. It deals with very political and personal questions with very divided answers. New-different-not my-ideas. Ideas I am not accustomed to.
The last book I truly read and loved and finished was Paper Towns by John Green. I read the text with so much vigor, surprising vigor, at that.
I felt that same vigor and that same ‘give me a speeding ticket because I am reading way too furiously to be within the law’-ness, and that same ‘I’m gonna have to stop and get an oil change
for my head because the motor is running, but I’m not going to’-ality.
And I continued to wonder (sometimes aloud) – “What do I love so (expletive) much about this book?!”
I sat and thought about it.
And I thought.
And it dawned on me.
I love this book. Not for its themes, or the author’s word choice, or the overall message contained between its covers. But for the reason that it caused me to start up that thing between my ears, and think.
I think I get it now.
And that’s pretty cool.
Thank You, for passing these skills on to me, so that I can do this with them.
I regret none of American Lit with you Freshman year (I read every word of The Scarlet Letter, and for me, that was scary-awesome), Brit/World Lit with Mrs Adelmann Sophomore year, and AP Lang with you this year. Thank you, you rock.
Books are cool.
I’ve always loved them.
But, now I appreciate them. And the pretty cool guy they’ve helped me become.
So let me try and instill (rejuvenate? invigorate? fuel?) a little hope in my worn and weary teaching partners around the world as this school year winds down and I know we could all benefit from a little love:
While we may be trying to merely survive until the end of the school year, to get through it in one piece in order to pick right back up and get ready for next year, teachers inspire. You, reading this, inspire students throughout the year. Even when we are tired, we inspire. With our passion for the written word, our desire to watch learners grow, and our commitment to allowing students choice in their exploration (with our guidance), we inspire.
Sometimes we are lucky enough to see it first hand, to hear about it, and literally embrace the students who let us know how they have been changed (I hugged Bennett on his way into class the next day. He seemed appropriately horrified). Other times, we never know for sure. But, as Quinn claims in Ishmael, we seek pupils to get them thinking, because careful thought can save the world.
The more we tell kids about the importance of reading, show them we are readers, put life changing books in front of them, and passionately share the experience through conferences and their written work, the more students we can reach on a deep and powerful level, because they know we care.
Yes, I’m tired. Really, really tired. But, Austin and Bennett (two pretty cool guys), have reminded me that all the work we’re putting in as a community of learners can really mean something. It can change, and maybe even save, someone’s world.
Most especially in May, when I might argue that many of us need it most.
What is helping fuel you at the end of this school year? Please comment below with your ideas on saving the world, one student (and teacher) at a time!
Tagged: Readers Writers Workshop
[…] students to challenge themselves, specifically Bennett Dirksmeyer. I wrote about it in a post about students inspiring students. Both young men credit our shared class experiences, and the books and essays they’ve read as […]
[…] got to know Bennett because he “grew up” in my […]
[…] However, the visual of an Escher-like hellscape I’ve just created for you, thankfully, isn’t the whole story. As I reflect back on this move to workshop, the overwhelming nature of the preparation involved ultimately pales in comparison to the positive feedback I’ve received from students. […]
Robert, thank you SO much for your comment and the kind words it contained. Thank you too for writing to hook reluctant readers. We couldn’t do what we do without you!
“I love it when that happens…” works just perfectly here. As a children’s book author, those priceless moments of seeing the lights go on in a child’s eyes, are why we do what we do. Mine didn’t go on until sophomore year in college when my English Lit teacher assigned us “Ada or Ardor, A Family Chronicle” by Vladimir Nabokov, a book to be savored under giant oak trees on sunny days on a college campus. That’s when I learned to LOVE the “deliciousness” of reading a great book.
Now I create books for reluctant readers, mostly boys of course, and try to get them intrigued with reading, which, at the third grade level, can be a daunting task, as you know. But when I’m surrounded in a gymnasium by 150 2nd-4th graders firing questions at the speed of light, and I look at the excited faces of their teachers on the sidelines, I feel I’m getting through. Just for now, maybe, but it’s a start.
Reluctant reader boys grow up to be men. The calibre of man they grow to become, is seeded by the love and devotion you put forth in your work as teachers. You have the power, and the opportunity to help mold a young man’s character. Be proud of that. Without you, we would be nothing.
This man thanks you all, for the devotion and love you put into your jobs. I know it’s hard, relentlessly tiring, and frustrating to no end…but, as Austin said, “You taught me how to think!” Now that…that is why we need you. Don’t ever stop. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you…
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I love everything about your writing, Lisa, from your sentence structure at the beginning to your amazing content to your inspiring stories about students. You give us all hope!! 🙂
I read Ishmael in college and I loved it–it opened my mind, too, so I love what Bennett says. And he is a pretty cool guy!!
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