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