the goodbye blues….

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At exactly 12:00PM today, summer vacation begins. In September, this day seemed to be years away. In between there would be quizzes, tests, and papers to grade. There would be students to get to know, knowledge to share, and challenges to overcome. Yet today after a full year of school saying goodbye for the summer is bittersweet. The teens are exuberant.  They bounce from friend to friend giving hugs and smiles as they sit for their last all school meeting and make plans for tomorrow. I sometimes wish someone would hold a finish line in the parking lot for all of them and us to run through and celebrate another year’s conclusion. Some students will receive awards for their tremendous work this year and we will all be so proud of their commitment to excellence. And yet, while in the throes of celebrating this momentous end, I am also sad to watch it. Never again will this particular group of students, with this particular energy, and connection meet as a collective in the way we have met everyday since September. Of course, they will come to say hi but this collective class (my class) will disperse and become members of other classes. By September, they will be taller and older (and hopefully wiser). Don’t get me wrong, I very much look forward to my summer vacation too, but saying goodbye to my students is so hard. I truly enjoy each and every one of them, even the ones that can be a little challenging from time to time are so important to me. As i wrap up my fourth year of teaching, I have learned so much from my students and my colleagues.  I am proud of how much I have grown this year as an educator and excited to set new goals for next year. Today, I will say goodbye to these students, to this year, and to this place…..until September.

weeknight baking

I don’t’ have to go to “work” tomorrow. My sub plans are submitted and I am handing over my students for the day.  It is never something I enjoy.  I much rather prefer being in the classroom with my students, but tomorrow is our History Department retreat. Twice a year, the department gathers together in someone from the department’s home for a long day of brainstorming.  Last retreat we focused on implementing design thinking into our curriculum. This time, the focus is on designing one term elective courses for all four grade levels. This is quite the endeavor. Instead of full year courses catering to each grade level, we are throwing this traditional model aside and trying to create something more reminiscent of college course selections. The classes will not be grade specific and will use a thematic approach to Global History. Wish us luck!!  Any suggestions for course themes or structure?

To nourish our minds and stem the tide of hunger that will inevitably come crashing down on us during such a retreat, I made my semi-homemade berry tart to bring in the morning.

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elective final project

I have never done this before. Typically, final projects in my History class require extensive writing. For example, my freshman write a textbook at the end of their course. This time though, I wanted to try something different. These seniors had selected to take my elective on Genocide and War Crimes. As you can imagine this is a “heavy” course. Examining mass murder and violence is a complex and challenging program of study. All term the students read extensively, wrote prolifically, and questioned the events earnestly.  Now I wanted them to have to demonstrate their understanding through a project that required them to have a vision and a purpose.  Could they make a high degree of connection between project guidelines and their knowledge and perception of genocide in which they illustrate their craftsmanship and originality?  I took my previous projects on design thinking as inspiration as I sat and crafted the prompt (below): design thinking I & design thinking II.

The prompt:

Create: Please create a work of visual art (conceptual art?) that communicates your ideas about what you have learned about Genocide & War Crimes and how this knowledge can benefit the world.

Your visual art must meet these requirements:

  • There must be at least 3-5 teachings in your visual art.

  • No symbols

  • No words

  • No cliches

    • no peace, love,  dripping blood, etc

    • no sad kids, or famous images of perpetrators, or famous images of violence

Requirements for presentation:

  • 5-7 minutes

  • Your process:

    • Why did you choose to portray Genocide in this manner?

    • How does this piece of visual art teach others about Genocide?

    • Needless to say, each teaching must reflect sophistication and deep intellectual thought.

A few of the products I received:

Project 1: Photography by EW. Depiction of the Armenia genocide using a pomegranate (fruit of Armenia)

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Project 2:  Cambodian Genocide by NHS.

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Project 3: Darkness Descending by AF.

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 8.05.13 PMProject 4: Wood Sculpture by LL. Distressed wood forced and hammered into place.

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These projects and the presentation of their teachings on genocide really impressed me. If you are interested in the teachings that accompany each of the projects, please don’t hesitate to ask!

goodbye senior class

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It was the last day of classes for the seniors. The halls pulsated with the intense emotions of saying goodbye (and for some saying good riddance). In many ways, it was a completely ordinary day. Classes started at 8AM and ended at 3:25PM. Lessons were taught and questions were asked. Homework was collected and projects were presented. Yet, this was a “special day” to be a senior. Those presented projects were final exams, it was the last lunch in the cafeteria, and the last time they would walk through the halls as the collective class of 2013. The Juniors excitedly assumed their position as the next oldest class in the building, each walking more confidently as they took the reins of the school from the seniors and flooded into the “cool place to hang out,” the school’s foyer. Many shed tears, hugs, handshakes, and other mischievous glances. The big fish in the little pond were ready to splash out of this neighborhood and be transferred into their new habitat.  The funny thing about fish though is that moving into a new home is a shock for any creature and particularly stressful for fish. I hope they all settle well into their new college environments in the Fall.

One of the school’s traditions on this momentous last day is “Senior Send Off.” The  entire upper school gathers, and the seniors take the stage to share where they are heading off to college next year and their favorite memory from their time here at our little private school. Dressed in their college swag, they approach the microphone individually and in pairs. Proud to be donning their new colors, they share inside jokes, shout-outs to teachers, gush about boyfriends/girlfriends, laugh about silly (and sometime sightly hazardous occurrences), and share other razbliuto with the school. During this assembly, I am teary-eyed. These students were freshmen when I was a freshmen teacher. Totally feeling out of place, unprepared, and distressed my first year of teaching, this little class taught me how to be a teacher. There is nothing you can google on how to do this job right. I was lucky when I was hired to this position with no experience and nothing but bright eyes and a promised strong work ethic to support my candidacy.

I remember that first day, what I wore, how my hands shook with nerves, and that I probably came across as mean, or at least as cold, since I didn’t want to give off the impression that I was clueless. These students taught me how to answer questions, plan activities, adjust to different learning styles, write tests, grade papers, but most importantly about how to build real and authentic relationships (friendships even) with my students. I laughed the hardest with them and probably cried the most as I figured out this emotionally demanding career. In some ways, their graduation day is my graduation day.  Some of these students I even taught for all four of their years of high school. I guess the best part of being a teacher is that everyday is different, yet comfortingly the same, every student is different, yet needs similar stuff like support, patience, guidance, and push to do the  heavy lifting with their brain muscles. I still have so much to learn and I hope that I will be saying this when I retire too.  But, even so, this class in particular will always hold a special place for me.  When I got a few shout-outs yesterday, my first in my four years of teaching, I was so proud.  Not because I wanted to toot my own horn but because it helped cement in me that this is the right place, this is the right profession, and that even when it is hard those moments of appreciation are soul warming.

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the museum came to us today…

The art teacher, Dave, carried the hulking box in from his classroom. Two feet by two feet, he propped his burden on the table just before my ninth graders came rushing in. Carefully, with caught breathe, we pulled the four prints out of their carrier one at a time. Unwrapping the thick parchment from the frames, I stood there silently. These prints were two hundred years old! We were not in a museum…we were standing in my 2:25PM class. We propped these commemorative prints up along the window and waited for the students to arrive.

It is funny how family history works. As my students and I began studying the War of 1812 together this week, a parent of the class reached out to me. “Did you know, that our family are direct descendants of Henry Ducie Chads?”  It took me a moment to place the name.  What?!?!  You are direct descendants of the Captain of the HMS Java which fought an incredible battle against the USS Constitution in the War of 1812 (a turning point battle that challenged England’s preeminence on the high seas and helped solidify the name “Old Ironsides” for the USS Constitution!!)  At first, I thought this was just an impressive lineage, but then she offered to help set up a private tour for the class to the USS Constitution since this year it is part of the 200th anniversary of the war and she asked if we would like to have 4 original prints commemorating the battle come to class for an afternoon. Oh and during our tour, she invited a descendent of the USS Constitution’s Captain Bainbridge to join us..and he said yes! SERIOUSLY!?!  I am going to nerd out here but I could not believe that an opportunity like this presented itself to my class!

So there we were today getting up close and personal with 200 year old history in our classroom. We learned about the prints origin, discussed why a British family would want to commemorate a battle loss, and narrated our way through the four chronological prints of the battle scene. It was SO cool!!  Next week we will be going to the USS Constitution during class time. I cannot tell you how giddy I have been over this connection, opportunity, and living history! Who knew history could be this exciting….well yes, I suppose I did, but it is so fun to see my students start to think that too!

 

one by one it all gets done

Growing up this phrase, “One by one it all gets done” was my grandma’s (we call her Nanny) mantra. If she was standing in front of a big pile of holiday dishes in the sink, she would slip into her scrubbing gloves, toss me a drying towel and say “One by one it all gets done” before we charged into our task. When I would come home from high school overwhelmed with school work and sit down at the kitchen table surrounded by my books and assignments, Nanny would come in, make me a little snack, and kissing me on my head say “one by one it all gets done” before encouraging me to get started on my work mountain.
It is funny how every day it was said, it felt like fresh new advice.  It created an “Aha!” moment in the midst of cloudy, dark thoughts.  It simply never got old and always felt supportive, encouraging, and empathetic. Now as a high school teacher, I see my students struggle to organize themselves around multi-step projects.  Their initial response to a big assignment is always, “I can’t do this” or “This is impossible.”  I can’t help but smile a little before saying, “One by one it all gets done.”  If anything I hope it gives them even a moment of perspective that I believe in their capacity as young learners and that despite the initial inertia that paralyzes them, they can grapple with this assignment. You could imagine my joy when I overheard one student recite my family mantra to her peer as they delved into their final for my course in which they had to write their own history textbooks using multiple perspectives for each major event. It felt amazing to see this little saying have an impact not only on me and my family but on them in that moment.  I hope it continues to spread!

students

The wind has been howling outside my window since yesterday evening. Sleeping was challenging as I was awoken by the ceaseless bellowing. The disturbed sleep reminded me that a potential snow day might await in the morning if the wind was any indication of the intensity of the snow outside. At 3AM, I crept to the window, pulled the shades open, and evaluated the snow. Thick snowflakes fell in whiteout conditions. I noted the inevitability of the snow day to come and snuggled back down between the sheets for a few more hours until confirmation would arrive. The alarm sounded 5:45AM, and I bounded to my phone but no alert for a snow day!  I bemoaned the plight of shoveling the 7 inches of fallen snow and the long drive to school. Nerves gathered in the pit of my stomach as I considered my driving skills, my corolla’s maneuverability, and my personal inability to be “that teacher” that calls out on an “un-snow” day. Disappointedly, I headed into the shower and asked David to keep me posted, “Don’t hesitate to disturb my shower should news come in.” “Of course,” David said as he sent in his own “I will be working from home e-mail” to work.

Just as I wrapped up in my towel, David came in with a grin on his face, “You are home, babe!”  The utter delight left me ecstatic.  Not only could I avoid driving the treacherous roads, not only did we get a snow day, but our two week Spring Break starts now!  Oh, the irony of Spring Break starting with a snowstorm!  Of course, though on this day when I am enjoying my unexpected day off, I am also reminded of how amazing my students are. Within minutes of school being called off, I received the following e-mails that warmed my soul and made my really miss school today:

“Good morning Mrs. X this is my presentation I will not be attending school today thank you.”

“Since we don’t have school do you still want us to share our presentations with you? Do you want us to record ourselves and send it to you?”

“Since we have a snow day today, I thought that I should just share my prezi with you so that you have it. Hope that you have a nice vacation!”

It will be two weeks until I see these curious, thoughtful, hard-working young men and women.  While I will absolutely enjoy the time to myself and this time in whichScreen Shot 2013-03-08 at 9.47.22 AM I am not “Mrs. X” but just Melissa, not seeing them, not working with them, not observing their talents, answering their questions, watching their presentations, or facilitating their discussions will leave an emptiness to my day. I will miss the kiddos in the next 14 days plus 1 from this snow day!