Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Farewell, Class of 2013

Though I started at CAJ during the 2008-2009 school-year, I was more a fly on the wall than anything else for those first few months: working with some students one-on-one, but mostly just observing the community around me.

It wasn't until August of 2009 that I set foot into my very own classroom, which, if we're being completely honest, is absolutely nothing like student teaching (about 10 times more terrifying).

That first year, I taught Bible to every high-schooler, but Bible classes at CAJ meet every other day, and each section of students rotates between two Bible teachers, so I found developing rapport and relationship with those students to be challenging.

However, I also taught one section of 9th graders--16 students--for both World History and Freshmen English.  Education classes and common wisdom tell us that the first year of teaching is brutally difficult, but honestly, it's an experience every teacher must go through; a crucible in which a new teacher learns more about themselves, and more about how to teach than they learned in several years of theory classes.  (Note: this is not to say the theory classes are worthless.  On the contrary, they are quite helpful, but that helpfulness is not truly activated until after spending time in the classroom and developing through trial and lots of error some kind of reference point for all the theories and pedagogy picked up in college classes).

Over the course of an entire school-year, I got to know these 16 students very well, spending almost two hours with them each day, 5 days a week.

Today, I get along well with many of these students.  At the time, however, things were not quite so comfortable.  As a first-year teacher, I was quick to be defensive and offended, easy to anger, quick to respond impatiently.  Here is a blog-post that I wrote on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010, describing a typical day in Freshmen Humanities:

12:15-12:18--Tardy bell for 5th period rings. No students tardy! I set up the computer and projector that I checked out from the library for today's presentations.

12:18-12:25--I introduce the presentations for the day with a brief overview of French, British and Dutch colonization.

12:18-12:35--Technological difficulties. The computer is working fine, but the projector is only displaying the background of the desktop; nothing else. Since it seems to be a problem with the projector and not the computer, I end up packing up the projector, taking it back to the library, and checking out a different one.

12:35-12:40--Same exact problem. 

12:40: Eureka! I discover that the projector is actually showing an adjacent computer screen, and I can actually drag the Keynote presentation from the computer screen to the projector screen.

12:41--Turns out the projector screen only shows the presenter notes when we hit "play show".

12:44--I discover that the "mirror screen" option is off in system preferences, and turn that back on, which enables the presentation to play on both the computer screen AND the projector screen. Huzzah!

12:46-12:51--Student presentation on the Jamestown colony. Very good!

12:51-12:55--I follow up on the presentation and re-emphasize the main challenges that the Jamestown settlement faced. 

12:55-12:59--I introduce the next presentation on piracy by talking about the settling of the Caribbean and competing interests between the French, English and Dutch.

1:00-1:04--First half of student presentation on The REAL Pirates of the Caribbean.

1:04--Lunch bell rings. 

1:04-1:10--I pack up computer, projector and speakers, and move them one room over (we change rooms between 5th and 6th). I then unpack and re-set up the works.

1:49--tardy bell rings for 6th period. A string of 8 students file in right after the bell (unfortunately my Internet is down, so I can't mark them tardy).

1:50-1:53--Projector computer is being finnicky. Takes a few minutes for student to get back into his account and open the presentation he'd started before lunch.

1:53-1:57--Student finishes presentation on piracy. Great job!

1:57-2:01--Questions from classmates about piracy.

2:01-2:08--I introduce the next presentation on the 7 years' war

2:09-2:20--Student repeatedly tries to log onto his account. After about 10 tries, it starts to load. SLOWLY. Eventually it brings him to his desktop, but gives him the spinning beach-ball for 5 minutes. In the meantime, I (a bit on edge and frustrated) criticize the noise levels during presentations and threaten to give tardies to anyone who talks while their classmate is presenting, and for those who already have tardies, an unexcused absence. An overreaction? Definitely, but I'm in a foul mood by this point. This leads to a heated "argument" between myself and the class over whether those 8 students were actually tardy. Everyone is on edge and unhappy. This sucks. The beach-ball is still spinning. I think the only thing we'd agree on right now is how much we hate technology.

2:20--I realize that my laptop is still unable to get onto the Internet, and that the technological difficulties must be related to the network. Stupid school network.

2:21--I shift gears quickly, pushing the scheduled presentations back a day and asking the final Romeo and Juliet group to perform their scene (they were supposed to go on Tuesday, but were missing group members). 

2:25--Since it is a warm, sunny day, we all move outside in front of the auditorium.

2:28-2:37--The group gives a very good performance. The rest of the class watches intently and cheers during Tybalt and Romeo's epic sword fight.

2:38--The bell rings and everyone departs for their 7th period class, significantly happier.

Every day is an adventure with the freshmen. Not always easy. Not always fun. Sometimes it's really frustrating both for me and for them. But we're learning together. The good times more than make up for the bad. I'll miss this group next year, despite all the struggles we've had. I hope they'll miss me too!

Today, I watched several of these students, now Seniors, present their Senior Comprehensives--the culmination of a year-long intensive research project, examining a world issue of their choice, analyzing causes and effects, and formulating a Biblically-based solution.  It was remarkable to see how far they have come; how much they have grown as students; as people; as citizens of the world, ready to embark from this place.  I am proud of them.  I can't help but wonder--over those same four years, how have I grown... as a teacher; as a person; as a citizen of the world?

I wish this class all the best.  Ours has been a complicated and sometimes tense relationship, but we helped each other learn and helped each other become who we are today.  I am incredibly grateful, and will miss the class of '13 tremendously.