It seems like each year of teaching is more intense than the last–the highs are higher, the lows are lower, and the chaos is more…chaotic. This year was no exception, and as my 7th and 8th graders leave the classroom this week, I am an exhausted mix of relieved and saddened to see them go.
Each year, while the bureaucracy of school politics, students’ disengaged behavior, and the heartbreak of kids who slip through the cracks drags me into despair, my students are the ones who pick me back up again. They, in their own words, give me life. Here are five standout things students say that lift me up when I’m down.
“This is fun!” The surprise and delight in a young teen’s exclamation about learning being fun never fails to bring a small, secret smile to my face. Learning is fun, engaging, and challenging in equal measures when students have choice, agency, and confidence in their work. My students created blackout poems as part of their final multigenre projects, and many students wrote in their final reflections that this was one of the most memorable activities during our time together.
“Can you conference with me about this?” After leaping right into reading and writing conferences with students when I met them in April, the verb “confer” became a standard in our classroom. Conferences about choosing which books to read, about how to improve a piece of writing, or even about those pesky grade questions take on more gravity than a simple comment here and there. Students learned that conferring was a time for one-on-one conversation, during which the participants were not to be interrupted. With the simple introduction of the term “conference,” the culture of the classroom shifted to one where talk was still vivacious, but was also more focused and productive.
“I’m proud of this.” My middle school students are boisterous at their most basic level, but each time they submitted a best draft of a piece of writing or turned in part of a project they’d worked hard on, they became suddenly shy. They’d look at me, almost confidentially, and tell me quietly, “I’m proud of this,” as they slid their work into a turn-in folder. Their multigenre projects this year were some of the longest and most complex pieces of work they’d created in their middle school academic careers, and Logan’s shy smile sums up their feelings of pride and accomplishment about their pieces.
“You should be proud of your daughter.” During my plan period one afternoon, I was chatting with my mom on speakerphone. A few students walked in with a question, and I told them I was on the phone with my mom and asked if they wanted to say hi. They greeted her and said, “you should be proud of your daughter. She’s an awesome teacher.” This mark of respect made me tear up and embarrass the two boys, but nonetheless it restored my faith in the sensitivity and manners all teens are capable of possessing.
“Now look at me.” My students’ final self-evaluations are some of my favorite things to read each year. Page after page of student writing is filled with students assessing their accomplishments and detailing their own growth. I ask them always to tell me how they’ve changed–something they don’t always know until they begin writing about it–and this year I was floored by one student’s response. Her struggles with addiction began at a young age, and as she found a more stable home and her life improved, she transformed herself into an avid reader and writer. This powerful self-assessment–“Now look at me! I’m a writer, a poet.”–floored me. It was a forceful reminder that literacy saves lives.
As difficult as a school year can be, I just keep coming back for more–and the students are really what keep me in the classroom. Each May, as my will wilts from the stresses of testing and schedule interruptions, my students’ energy and vitality give me life at the end of each year…just when I need it.
What do your students do to give you life? Please share in the comments.
Shana Karnes teaches in West Virginia, but only for three more weeks. She’ll be moving to Wisconsin with her family, her books, and her love of teaching. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader.