Tag Archives: end of the school year

Another Year, Another Race: Taking our students from August to June

by GABRIELLE LENSCH PLASTRIK

I have my students do a lot of reflection at the end of the year, which in turn, leads to me doing a lot of reflection.  I inevitably end up making plans for the coming year at the end of the previous year.  I am sure that the same is true for almost every dedicated teacher out there.

Next year will be my third year teaching roughly the same curriculum to the same aged students at the same school.  As I look to next fall, I am occasionally overwhelmed by the journey that my students take.  They learn so much as writers who write about literature that it is exhausting just to think about starting where they start and ending where they end.

For example, before they enter my classroom, they have written persuasive, expository, and narrative pieces with an expectation of academic rigor, but they have never written a thesis statement analyzing a short story, poem, or novel.  By the end of the year, they can write six page essays that synthesize five or more literary sources in order to discuss an issue like Americans’ relationship with the land.

It is a journey that is exhausting for them, but also for me.  I wouldn’t  have it any other way.  Because they are doing all of that hard work, I feel pretty strongly that I ought to be working equally as hard.  One of my colleagues at school says that every school year is like a marathon.  Major school moments are all mile markers until we get to this time of year: when we can see the tape across the finish line.  I have never liked that metaphor because I used to be a runner and I remember how many races I forced myself to finish after hitting the 3/4s of the way done point and thinking, “If I fainted now, no one would be mad that I didn’t finish.” School is not like that.  I enjoy each part of the year for different reasons.

But, now, as I look to the starting line for next year, the metaphor seems apt—just on a different scale.  The students run a marathon, and it is grueling.  I am more like the pacer for each runner than like a runner myself.  My pace and my finish time are not accomplishments; they are insignificant.  Instead, it is my job to work as hard as I can to improve theirs while also working to make sure that they are going to make it through.  Our jobs are tough.  Teaching with your whole self means giving a piece of yourself to as many students as will take it. Continue reading

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Reflections on Urban School Teaching: 21 Notes of Farewell

by JILL GUERRA

June is here and it is time to say goodbye. I have taught my students for the last two years, first in a self-contained classroom for 4th grade, and, currently, as their 5th grade language arts/social studies teacher. Their math/science teacher also taught them in the past, in 3rd grade. This is the class no one wanted to take on full-time. We decided to share the job—we knew we would need the break.  

This class has a lot of drama. Our principal has taken away their morning and lunch recess for the last three months of school because they just can’t stop arguing and creating Jerry Springer-type scenarios every time they are given unstructured time. This is the class that, on some days, I thought I could not endure—the class that ignited my migraine headaches and caused the anxiety attacks I started having in graduate school to resurface. 

They are also a class of survivors. 

There are eleven students who, this school year alone, buried a loved one. Eight of them more than once. Many have witnessed the kind of violence most of us only see on TV. Only two of the families consist of both biological parents living in the same home. Almost all of them have incarcerated relatives. Two have been homeless. They always choose granola bars over toys from the prize box. 

Today I was working on graduation cards for them and I came to a realization: While several of us who teach them frequently make comments about being unable to “wait until this group is gone,” the truth is that this class of students motivates me. They require me to be on top of my game. They remind me why being a social justice teacher is important and necessary.

This afternoon, as I was calling the class to order so that I could hand out homework and get to an after school job I have (which supplements my income), I overheard some students talking. 

Victor: “Be quiet, it’s Tuesday, she has to go to her other job!” Another student: “That job is easy, she likes those kids, they never misbehave.” Tyrone: “Nuh-uh, Ms. Guerra LOVES us.” 

Yes, Tyrone, I do, and here is why (student names have been changed): 

Rachel,
You have a gift for seeing the world in a way that many people do not.  Remember to always have patience for others and don’t let your emotions get the best of you when speaking out (save that for later). I expect great things from you! Thank you for your wonderful contributions to our class.

Jazzibel,
Q: Know what I will miss most about you? A: The way you always speak up for what is right! Keep studying and working hard and you will be great at making change for your community. You are strong and passionate and those are wonderful gifts, beautiful girl! (Always remember that.)

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