Friday, January 3, 2014

Good Things

"In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day's work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years."
-Jacques Barzun

I love this exhausting job. Everyday offers an opportunity to laugh, learn, commiserate, reflect, build relationships, grow, and think.   But it's hard work.  I'm looking now at the piles of paper strewn all over my desk. (I swear the desk was clean this morning.)  I'm preparing to lug my enormous bag of grading home, knowing all too well that the task is far too great to accomplish in one weekend--a mere 48 hours.  And I'll be honest, there are days when I wonder what I'm doing here.  Have I honestly chosen to spend my life surrounded by 16-year-olds?  Am I so masochistic that I'm going to spend the next 30 years of my life in high school?

But then really wonderful things happen.  I spent the last hour working with a student on her college admission essay.  She's so eager to go to college.  She feverishly deleted and rewrote and deleted again, working to make it sound just right.  She was invested.  She kept saying, "I just want this to be the best thing I've ever written.  I just want to show them how much I've learned."  Is that not the sweetest, most adorable thing?!  As I listened to her grapple with syntax and word choice, I heard her saying the kinds of things I write and say to students when I give them feedback on writing.  Here are a few gems I heard--straight from the student's mouth:
  • It doesn't matter how pretty the words are if the message isn't clear. I just need to say what I really want to say.  Say it simply.
  • If I can't hear my voice, I bet no one else can.
  • If it sounds like something someone expects to hear, I should scratch it and say something better.
  • I need to work on revealing the person behind the writing.
  • Who doesn't love a good semicolon? Wait, did I use that right?
  • I want to vary the syntax to engage my reader.  The writer controls the pace.
How beautiful is that?!  She's a WRITER! She very sweetly, full of embarrassment, told me today that she hears my voice when she writes, that it guides her. (I sure hope I'm sending her in a good direction!)

I record feedback for my students on their writing.  I'm too controlling for writing conferences.  (Seriously, what are the other kids doing?! Messing around?  Uh uh.  No way.  Not in my room! Ha ha.) But I want to be able to speak to them. I want them to hear tone. I want them to hear the way their sentences unfold (or don't) when I read a section of their writing aloud.  I want them to remember they are writing for a reader.  I record this feedback mid-process.  I went back through my files after Chloe left.  I've recorded 16 videos of feedback for her.  No wonder she hears my voice! Ha ha!

She left with that giant Chloe smile and a big thank you.  She was so proud of herself.  And really, all I did was witness her process.  I asked a few questions. I gave her a nudge here or there.  I celebrated the semicolon! :)

As she was packing up, a student I had in class last year, Joe, came in.  He's a freshman in college this year. He was one of my favorites (even though we're not supposed to have them).  Truthfully, my feelings had been a little hurt that he hadn't been in touch. I usually hear from quite a few students at the start of the school year.  They want to let me know they know what they're doing--they feel ready for college.  But I didn't hear from him.

He came bounding in after school today with a big ol' grin.  "Ms. MOEHLIS!" he shouted, "We got an A in college English!"  I corrected him, he got an A in English.  He offered, "I couldn't have done it without you." He wanted to tell me in person. He said he knew I'd be proud. I am!

I don't say this to toot my own horn. I write it to celebrate our students who achieve so much. I want to remind myself that "these kids today" do know gratitude. Sometimes it's just hard for them to show it.

The life of a teacher is often a lonely one; it can be isolating.  It can feel like we work for nothing.  But then those kids come bounding in--successful, smart, creative, independent--and they want to share  who they are, who they've become.  They acknowledge that a teacher helped them see something new, a teacher helped prepare them for what comes next.  They are grateful and appreciative.  And then we know that we've got it made.  We're reminded why we do this work.

So I'm heading home with my giant bag of papers.  And I'm smiling.

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