COMMIT TO ENDINGS

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I struggle with endings, with hitting the balance between hope and regret. Despite wanting my students to listen carefully, review assignments, and take extra time to perfect their work, I am impatient myself. I always wish I’d done something different, pushed harder, and accomplished more.

Monday, I had my students over for a party at the end of the year. I haven’t done that in years. I think they had a good time and we ate and laughed some. I sent them out on the beach while Gary and I cleaned up, and they came back after a long time, grinning and sandy.

They asked me if I wasn’t glad the school year was over.

I almost never am.

These are graduating seniors, with summer plans of work and travel and college classes in the fall.

I always wish I had more time, that I could have their full attention for another month in order to, as my mother would say, “whip them into shape.”

The truth is, I am slow to get to know my students, and then I value them as people. I wanted them to work harder and mostly they did. They made no more mistakes than I did in high school, but expectations have not been set nearly high enough. They have coasted too much.

An administrator complained to me the other day that these current high school students are afraid of things being too hard, that their parents do not want their children to struggle, and that even some teachers find it impossible to set high standards because doing so makes more work for them too. Everyone wants to make education easier, as if that were possible or even a good idea.

Throughout my teaching career, I have been asked to articulate my teaching philosophy. After 40+ years, I would say it comes down to this: Set a high standard, support incremental growth, and demand excellence. When we show them they can accomplish beyond their expectations, they are capable of pushing on. When we make the work easy, we are telling students that “easy” is all they are capable of accomplishing. We reinforce their belief that struggle is equal to failure.

Many years ago, I heard Kylene Beers speak at an NCTE Conference. I’d been heading into the conference room next door, but the presenter in that room stood outside her door: “Go see Kylene. You’ll be glad, and I am presenting again in the next session.” I took her advice. One of Kylene Beers’ key points was to reveal struggle as a good and natural process. “I struggle when I read the tax forms. I struggle when I read Toni Morrison.”

The choir teachers from my son’s high school days were exceptionally demanding. Do it better, be stronger, try something even harder! Sometimes those teenaged singers would listen to their songs and be simply amazed at how excellent they sounded. They produced professional performances. They gained confidence and ambition as a result of that demand to do the harder thing, that insistence that they do it and do it and do it again, until they have mastered themselves.

Learning is struggle, struggle makes us strong, strength makes us better.

My teaching is done for the time being and I must return to my own work. I still have a warp to wind, a quilt to complete, and a story that wants editing.

This week: Slow down, do better, amaze myself.

5 thoughts on “COMMIT TO ENDINGS

  1. Congrats on another school year and to a well-deserved Summer of fun and creativity! I completely agree that learning needs to embrace equality and equity. That is the main issue today that schools and policy makers struggle with. Every student across the country needs to have access to the same materials and they need to have an environment where they get the scaffolding and differentiation that they need. I think that my understanding of educational equity has been a revelation for me. While students all deserve the same resources (clean schools, good cafeteria food, new textbooks, technology, arts education, gyms), each student has different social, emotional, and physical needs. Fair is not equal and knowing this is so helpful in assessing growth and helping students exceed expectations. Thanks again for the inspiring posts!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “struggle as a good and natural process” Such a wise and helpful way to put this. My father at 83 told me recently he only likes to do things where he is learning. He still loves his weekly cello lessons, practices daily and revels in his progress. I say what about cooking, gardening, where one can learn but also one can, and he does, savor the comfort in repetitive and satisfying processes. I suppose its not an either/or thing, that struggle is not the only good and natural process. He and I play duets often now since my happy discovery last summer that after 45 yrs of not playing violin I still can. He suggests I might want to take lessons, to improve, yet I am totally content savoring the fun of playing together.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What an astonishing and beautiful relationship you share with your father, especially to me with no living parent—you play duets! Thank you for creating an image I will carry of the two of you playing.

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      1. You are so right and I appreciate it very much! Glad you can too! I started playing after my mother died suddenly last summer, at first to distract him really, and its evolved from there!

        Liked by 1 person

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