Sunday, April 27, 2014

Bildugsroman

The end of the year has a way of racing toward me like a speeding train.  February drudges on and the year seems interminable.  Then I suddenly find myself in a dead sprint to the end. I'm in my ninth year of teaching. I should have figured out a manageable pace by now, but I haven't.

There are times of year when you can almost hear the growth.  If you strain, you can almost hear the sound of buds opening, of shoots poking through dirt…  Oliver seems to have sprouted into a new version of himself almost overnight.  And my seniors… My sweet seniors…  They, too, are growing.  They are in the same boat.  They thought high school would never end. Now it's here.  They've become grown ups (almost) in a matter of moments.

I wanted to help them mark it and, at the same time, to help them see the work we've done over the course of the year holds meaning--it provides answers in a way maybe they didn't see it could.  As a culminating project, I offered them the opportunity to complete a bildungsroman project.  A bildungsroman is a coming-of-age story--one that marks the development from childhood to adulthood in some significant way.

A few years ago, I made a bildungsroman cd of music that contributed to the person I am today and I invited students to do the same. I've expanded on it this year and have tied it to a writing assignment. I told students that it needed to be their very best work--it should serve as a testament to the writers and thinkers they are.  Already I've received 4 beautiful, poetic, and insightful essays and playlists that offer a glimpse into the lives of my students. They seem to be taking it really seriously.  The end of a high school career is filled to the brim (if I remember correctly) with emotion.  I think of Joyce Carol Oates' short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" While hers is a dark story, it begs the question.  If ever there was a time that warrants reflection, this is it.

I do think about that… I've chosen a career that bestows years upon years of freshly sharpened pencils, clean notebook pages waiting to be filled, and the scent of freshly waxed floors--an opportunity to begin anew. And I've been gifted with an equal number of springs--of the shedding of a year's skin; the gift of a natural season of reflection, of pledges to do more--to do better, to reassess…  But the spring, too, will perpetually be a year of heartbreak.

To teach--to truly know one's students--a relationship must be forged.  Teaching seniors is likely good practice for watching/letting my own children flee the nest.  It comes with a mix of pride, of joy, of fear, of sadness…  Many won't come back--they're all too eager to explore and grow, to create an identity that is theirs alone.  Others need a nudge.  Some fly off, heads turned, looking back.  We can only hope to impart some of our own knowledge--some of our lessons learned. To offer encouragement in whatever form they may need. And in their final writing assignment, I share Frost's wisdom: "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader."  Everyone has a story to tell.  They get to choose how it will impact the listener.

So these are a few of the things I've been thinking about…  And, in case you're interested, here's the link to my bildungsroman playlist: http://tinyurl.com/moehlis-bildungsroman (If you don't have a Spotify account, you'll need to create one to listen.)

I'm grateful for the opportunity to teach.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn and reflect. I'm grateful for the opportunity to build relationships, to meet young people at such an incredible and important point in their development, and to have the opportunity to watch them grow and forge their own path.  The letting go is hard--it always will be--but there's an undeniable beauty in it too.  In however small a way, I got to be a part of my students' lives, a part of their story, in just the same way they are a part of mine. And in that way, pieces of our story--theirs and mine--will always share common ground.  And I'm lucky to have been a part of it.


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