Friday, May 29, 2015

Letter to the Class of 2016

My first year of teaching was a nightmarish procession of so many aspects of my poor, unskilled vision being met with an ever poorer reality, but I did start one tradition that year that I've kept to this day: at the end of the year, I wrote a letter to my class.  I express myself best in writing, and a letter was the only way I knew of that I could possibly sift through the complexity of that difficult year to wish my students luck, thank them for the year, and let them know I cared.

In spite of all that had passed between us that year, the students told me that they appreciated my letter, and that it had meant a lot to them.  Since then, I've written a letter to my students at the end of each school-year.  As a teacher of writing, I feel strongly that to close the year with a letter is to model the love for writing that I earnestly hope my students will carry away from my classes.  Of course, I hope my students know that I care about them without a letter telling them so, but nonetheless, there are some things too important to leave unsaid.  

For fellow teachers who might read this post: what are the ways in which you consciously let your students know that you care for them?  

Here is the letter that I wrote to the class of 2016 and handed to them on Wednesday.  It came from the heart, and I chose to publicly share this letter more for the sake of bragging on this talented group than anything else:


Dear Class of Twenty-Sixteen,
On the first day of class more than nine months ago, I made a promise that I would strive to teach you with so much integrity that it would literally overflow from me.  I also invited and challenged you to learn with integrity--a deeper quality than mere honesty, rather a commitment to be one’s self at every turn.  Together, we faced a choice of two paths: the safe, yet boring path of keeping to ourselves; or the dangerous, yet joyful path of investing in one another with that profound integrity.  Now, as our journey together draws to a close, I look back fondly at the road we’ve walked. 

We chose joy.  You chose joy as you shared from the heart the stories of how you came to be at CAJ.  I chose joy as I sang an assortment of songs, some Disney, some not.  You chose joy as you met to plan your charity event.  I chose joy as I told stories, not only from the deepest reaches of American History, but from my own life as well.  You chose joy as you welcomed a record-breaking number of new classmates into the community of 2016.  I chose joy as I read each essay carefully enough to make relevant comments and offer the best feedback I could.  Even if other parts of your life this year were hectic, stressful, or perhaps even painful, it is my sincere hope that the time we spent together was a source of joy for you, as it was for me.

In a discussion near the end of our first unit, I asked you to think about which graduating class had been the most legendary in your mind.  A few clear contenders emerged, and you spoke of those classes with a sort of awe and admiration.  Since that conversation, you have lived more than thirty eventful weeks.  In that time, you organized and hosted a cultural festival that will not be soon forgotten, to raise funds for Ebola research.  You set a new record, and a new standard of excellence for the Spring Thrift Shop.  You heard a record number of classmates voice their desire to serve on the Senior Council.  In addition to these things, the class of 2016 was well-represented in FarEast tournaments, in concerts, and on stage.  You are a class who inspires respect and fondness in the underclassmen, and I have no doubt that in four or five years, when I ask future classes the same question that I asked you in that discussion so many weeks ago, more than a few will be quick to say “the class of 2016.”

In the same breath, I place before you a challenge: you have made a name for yourself as Juniors and believe me, I’m tremendously proud of what you have accomplished already.  Don’t stop there.  Senior year is a year of opportunity; a year of influence; a year of leadership.  It is also a year where you will likely feel taxed and tired, ready to graduate and get on with your life.  Do not check out too soon.  Be the class that leads till the end; the class that finishes with a sprint, not a stagger.  Your legacy is your own to mold: all eyes are on you and at your cue, your underclassmen will respond.  It is with this in mind that “Becoming people of justice” must go from being a thesis statement on a long essay, to a personal reality.  You know which characteristics will come naturally, but you also know which will be most challenging for you... perhaps it’s selflessness or humility; perhaps it’s courage or love; perhaps it’s empathy or agency.  God has given each of you incredible gifts and a tremendous capacity to bless those around you with those gifts.  It has been a joy to watch you develop those gifts in the time we’ve spent together, and I must now take the difficult and heart-breaking step of letting you go, and trust that you will continue to use your many gifts for God’s glory.

Prepare yourself for the task ahead: rest up this summer.  Read, relax, spend quality time with your family and friends.  Make sure to spend some time doing absolutely nothing--lie down in the grass and watch the clouds roll by.  When you return in August, it will be your year.

To the class of 2016: it has been a privilege of the highest order to be your teacher, your advisor, your number-one fan, and your friend.  I will miss you terribly, but I am also excited to see what each of you will do next year as Seniors, and beyond.  

Love in Christ,

Mr. Gibson

I must confess that the letters were typed, not handwritten. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Search for a Workable Late Work Policy, Part Two

Last month, I wrote about changes I made to my own, personal late-work policy.  Today, I would like to share a little bit about the new policy that we tried out at the high school level this year.  A fellow social studies teacher and I were responsible for putting the policy into action and supervising the after school study hall.

I have written a description of the policy below:

After School Assistance Program

If a student fails to finish an assignment on the day it is due, they must report to the after school study hall in Room 109 from 3:30 to 4:30, where they will work on their missing assignment until it is done.

Each day, the students must sign in by 3:45, indicating what assignment they will be working on.

The ASAP supervisor will collect the sign-up sheets and input the attendance record into a Google Drive spreadsheet.

Students must submit all late work to the ASAP supervisor (if it is an email or electronic submission, they must cc the ASAP supervisor).  Students must write the original due-date on the top of the assignment before submitting.  The supervisor then checks the attendance records to make sure that the student has indeed been at ASAP each day since the assignment was due.  For every day that the student failed to attend the study hall while they still had an outstanding assignment, they will receive one tardy.  If they are missing two assignments, they will receive two tardies for each day they failed to attend, and so on.

Furthermore, after five days (Sundays excluded), the assignment begins to lose credit, 10% per day.  After 10 days, the teacher will not accept the assignment at all, and will score that assignment a 'zero' in the grade-book, unless the student makes other arrangements with the teacher.

We arrived at this policy through trial and no shortage of error during this school-year.  For the first semester, we had not thought to put the responsibility of signing in to study hall on the students, so my fellow supervisor and I would spend a prep period each day scouring the online grades to make a list of students with missing assignments who we would expect to show up after school.
There were several major problems with this:
1) To work, this system required teachers to update their grades daily so that all record of missing assignments would always be current.
2) If students did not show up, we essentially had to become bloodhounds and track the students down to tell them to go to the study hall.
3) For the students who we could not find, the principal had to email them.  Some days, the principal emailed as many as 30 students who had been listed as having a missing assignment, yet who missed the study hall.  More often than not, these students turned out to have legitimate reasons for missing, and some had already submitted their assignments, but the grades had not been updated.
It was an unreasonable burden on the teachers and on the principal.  Moreover, there were no set consequences for missing, other than an email from the principal and an email to parents if skipping became habitual.

In January, we made several major revisions to arrive at the policy listed above.

Has this new policy been a success?
That is a complicated question.

Most days, we receive a small stack of assignments that had been due either that day in class, or the day before.  For students who are trying hard, but struggling to finish their work on time for whatever reason, this system provides them with the support that they need to finish, while also imposing the compelling consequence of sacrificing an hour of their time after school, and possibly even missing a sports practice or rehearsal.  For students who are motivated by their time, this policy has been fair and has kept many students who would have been at risk of falling behind on top of their work.

On the other hand, for students who lack time management skills or who are not motivated by time, this system has been counter-productive.  My co-supervisor and I were surprised at how many students have been content to come every day after school--for them, the prospect of sacrificing an hour of their time after school has clearly not been a motivator.  Many students who regularly attend the after school study hall are there because they lack the organization or time management skills to use homework or class-time well, and they do not use the after school work-time well, either.

For these students, our new policy may be doing a disservice: they are eventually losing assignment credit as they would have under the old system, but are now being taught that they are doing something proactive by regularly attending the after school study hall (even as they fail to submit their work).  I worry that these students will have to learn through catastrophic failure in their first year in college, where there's no guarantee that a professor will even accept an assignment submitted late.

This system that we are offering out of grace, and the desire to carry out good educational practice may actually be working against preparing these students for the world beyond CAJ.

So, as the year comes to a close, I am in somewhat of a quandary: the teacher in me who wants to see student work assessed fairly on its own merits rejoices in a policy that separates timeliness from other skills or understandings.  However, the teacher in me who wants to see his students thrive after they graduate is filled with worry and doubt.

This policy works extremely well for some, but what about those who continue to fall behind even with this policy in place?

I am eager to revisit the late-work policy with my colleagues after school finishes, and brainstorm ways to make this better so that we can make the changes we need to make without losing the benefit that this has for some students, and the basic philosophy of separating timeliness from other skill or understanding grades.

We took a worthwhile risk in trying out this new policy, and the time has come to discern what must be kept and what must be changed to best prepare our students to "serve Japan and the world for Christ."

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien had the "Eagle and Child Pub"; Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald had Gertrude Stein's place; Sam, Diane and the gang had "Cheers".

Finding that place "where everyone knows your name" is a basic human desire, rooted in a longing for community and belonging.

These havens of food, fun and fellowship are special perhaps in part because they are fleeting: people move away, lifestyles change, businesses close.

For the better part of my 20s, I enjoyed such a home-away-from-home: a little bistro in the big city--a small burger joint in Higashikurume, Tokyo.

Reno's Bistro opened at a time when I needed a place where I could become a "regular".

It was 2010 and I'd only just turned 24.  A teacher's paycheck is humble, but a young, single teacher can at least eat like a king.  So it happened that one Sunday evening I found myself at the new burger restaurant.

I had wanted to go for some time, but did not have any close friends who I could go with and I did not want to be the awkward lonely guy eating by himself.  Eventually I just gave up and decided to go on my own.

I ordered the Kansas City Burger that evening, a flavorful hamburger topped with barbecue sauce.  I was about to eat on my own at a table in the corner when a colleague whose family was just sitting down across the way called me over.  So, my first meal at Reno's turned out to be a time of fellowship after all, as I talked to my colleague's elderly parents, who had been missionaries in Japan in the 60s and 70s, and were back for a visit.

In June, as my first year of teaching was drawing to a close, I visited Reno's for the second time.  This time, the occasion was a guy's night out with a few colleagues, all of whom were in their late 20s.  We picked out some beers from the selection of imports in the fridge, ordered a steady supply of appetizers and enjoyed a good evening of celebration for the year that was ending, joined in conversation by the chef, Kevin, who entertained us with stories on a vast array of subjects.

When I came back from my summer vacation in America, Reno's had become part of my routine.  While several of the guys I'd gone with before were married and unable to go regularly, a few other single guys decided that there was no better place to spend a Friday night, or a Saturday night, and often, both.

Kevin and Meg Reno wasted no time in adopting us as a second family and before long each of us felt comfortable dining at Reno's on our own and simply sitting at the counter, chatting with the Reno family as they worked away.

So it was that Reno's Bistro served as the backdrop for so many milestone social events of my 20s:

It was at Reno's that I forged my first real friendships with colleagues my own age, including a friend who would later be my roommate for one year.

It was at Reno's that I first stepped out of the "English bubble" I'd been living in and practiced Japanese with other patrons who spoke no English whatsoever.

It was at Reno's that I rung in the New Year at the start of 2012.

It was at Reno's that I enjoyed dinner with several friends from high school who were living on base in or near Tokyo.

It was at Reno's that I learned what a small world it truly was: my sister-in-law's cousin had frequented Reno's when he was playing ball for the Seibu Lions several years earlier--something we discovered when she and my brother were in Japan for a visit two years ago, and noticed his jersey hanging on the wall.

Sometimes I was the only customer in the restaurant.

Sometimes I was sandwiched between strangers because the place was so crowded.

One time, I was the only white guy in an otherwise-Japanese conga line.

That was on Mariachi Night--the Renos had invited a Mariachi band to come and play.

I also went to Reno's on Blue's Night, Folk Night, and several evenings on which my roommate (who was the CAJ band teacher) would perform with a local group.

Over the years, I tried everything on the menu at least once (well, maybe except for the salads).

I got to the point where I didn't need a menu.

Heck, I got to the point where I ordered burgers that weren't even on the menu.

I went to Reno's on lonely nights where I would quietly play Bejeweled on my iPhone.

I went to Reno's on busy nights where I made new friends and worked up the courage to talk to girls.

More than once, I went to Reno's after getting off the airplane coming back from America, suitcase in tow.

I went to Reno's on my 26th birthday, when they had picked up an ice-cream cake for me with my roommate.

I went to Reno's with my brother, my sister and my parents when each of them took turns coming out to visit.

I went to Reno's when it was time to say goodbye to my roommate who was returning to America.

I went to Reno's on my 3rd date with Tomomi.

I went to Reno's with my whole family when they came out for my wedding.

I went to Reno's tonight, for the very last time.

We knew for some time that the Renos were planning to move on to other things, but the official announcement only came last week that they'd finally sold the restaurant, and would be closing their doors on Saturday the 23rd.  Married life had meant a change in dining habits and so our trips to Reno's over the past year came once a month or once every two months, but we always enjoyed those meals, those chances to catch up with the Reno family.  Tonight, they were busy--there would be no stories from Kevin, no catching up, no long farewell.

So, I ordered a Cowboy Burger (topped with barbecue sauce & fried onions), Tomomi ordered a Kansas City Burger and we shared a side of spinach-artichoke dip.  We paid the check, said a quick goodbye to Meg, walked out the door, and an era quietly ended.

More than their cooking, I am forever grateful to the Renos for their hospitality and their kindness.  They were a family away from family, a well-spring of encouragement, good humor, friendship and care. For a good portion of my 20s, Reno's was the place where everyone knew my name.
I will never forget that little bistro in the big city.
Chilling with Meg and Gabe (my roommate) back in 2011

Thursday, May 14, 2015

In Defense of AP English

AP English is worthless.

This was how I felt five years ago when I heard that I would be teaching AP English for the first time the following year.  This attitude did not come out of nowhere.  I profoundly disliked AP English when I took it as a high school senior: the class I took was designed as year-long preparation for the AP literature exam, but when I took both the AP Literature exam and the AP Language exam that May, I scored higher on AP Language, even though that was the exam I had not prepared for.  I felt as though I had wasted a year of my life.

As I took education classes in college, I came to view the entire AP system as the enemy to good teaching: high school courses focused on coverage rather than un-coverage, teaching toward a test, heavy on memorization, mistaking amount of work for quality of work--all qualities I detested.

While I cannot speak for other APs, it turns out that these assumptions could not have been further from the truth for AP English.  AP English: Language and Composition is all about critical thinking, integrity, and clear communication, inherently valuable skills that extend beyond a test score and possible college credit.

Critical thinking has become a buzzword in contemporary education, functioning almost as the antithesis of the content-heavy, passive learning model that has characterized much of American education over the past two centuries.  Despite the tremendous good that the idea represents, "critical thinking" is thrown about in a manner that betrays a distinct lack of critical thought:

In an effort to be progressive, school textbooks label trivial, shallow tasks as "Critical Thinking Exercises".  Prescriptive standardized tests purport to measure critical thinking.  Teachers argue fruitlessly about exactly what it means to teach and assess critical thinking.  

Yet, the AP Language curriculum suggests a very plausible definition, embedded in the tasks that make up the test itself: critical thinking is the ability to read objectively, analyzing information for bias, manipulation and fallacies.

In order to succeed on the AP English exam, students must learn not simply to read carefully, but to read critically and then to think critically about what they have read.  While this does mean some memorization of rhetorical appeals, modes, fallacies and basic strategies, the emphasis is not on memorization, and indeed there's a sharp line drawn between memorizing the terms and applying them.

My students become aware of the ways in which a speaker is attempting to reach his audience, whether that be an appeal to their minds, an appeal to their hearts, or an appeal to their trust.  From this foundation, to have substantive discussions about propaganda is not such a stretch--it soon becomes clear that even music, literature and film use these basic appeals, too.  

Moreover, the students begin to recognize when a speaker is not dealing honestly with his audience, when logic is being abused, when emotions are being toyed with and when trust is being twisted.

They also recognize these tendencies within themselves: that time they got an extension on an assignment by turning a minor obstacle into a sob story; that time they told a half-truth in response to their parents' inquiry about school-work; that time they used a non-sequitur to end a heated discussion with a friend.  We laugh about the fallacies, and the students can be heard even months later calling out fallacies in conversations with friends, but they do ultimately learn to monitor themselves, too.

Finally, the students learn to communicate in a clear and concise manner, and for a variety of purposes.  Organization is essential, and students who started the school-year incapable of writing a thesis statement learn to write a good thesis and outline in a matter of minutes.  

While the strict time limit on the essays feels somewhat inauthentic to real life (unless a student plans to go into high-pressure journalism), there is tremendous value in being able to organize one's ideas quickly and efficiently.  Even students who struggle with grammar and punctuation learn to organize and support their ideas, and occasionally they do so effectively enough to score a '4' or a '5'.  

Students leave AP English feeling, on the whole, much more confident in their abilities as readers, writers and thinkers.  I was grateful to hear my students report back to me today that they felt well-prepared for their exam yesterday, but what matters more to me is that they are leaving my class prepared to be better communicators and thinkers in their senior year and beyond.

I am proud to teach AP English and if a student asks whether or not I would recommend it, my response has shifted from one of hesitation to an unequivocal 'yes': if they are interested in the challenge, they will learn a lot, even if English is not their favorite subject; even if the final test score doesn't reflect what they learned. 

Now, as I wrap up my 5th year of teaching AP English, I recognize that my original perception of AP English was off by five incredibly important letters:
AP English is not worthless.
AP English is priceless.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Data, Take the Wheel

On a brisk January day back in 2013, I assigned my Freshmen World History classes a DBQ (Document Based Questions) on the Crusades.

It was essentially random--aside from a few lectures, I had done little to prepare them to analyze a series of historical documents connected to the Crusades, let alone put together an essay synthesizing information from the documents.

And here I was, asking my students to both analyze the documents and complete the essay in 50 minutes.  Was I crazy?

The truth was, I was phobic about teaching DBQs, having never actually written a DBQ myself until college.  I was throwing my students in the deep end, and in the process, worsening their own fear of writing DBQs.

Understandably, the students panicked.  They were polite enough, but even the best writers in the class were beset with anxiety and begged me to call off the assignment.

Now, I'm not proud of this, but I did call off the assignment.  I neglected to seize what would have been a brilliant teachable moment and guide the kids through the process of writing the DBQ.  I took the coward's way out, and I never assigned another DBQ in my World History class.

Fortunately, this incident (among many others that year) provided a wake-up call to me that I was in a professional rut and needed to learn more about how to teach and assess effectively.  It was only a couple months later that I began my Master's program.  

Now, fast-forward ahead two years.

Those same students returned to my classroom as 11th graders, half of them in my Humanities class.  When I announced our first DBQ of the year back in October, I saw all-too-familiar looks of panic wash over the students' faces.  
"Don't worry," I assured them, "We're going to really break the process down and walk through it together."
And we sure did.  We took nearly one week of class time (two class periods each day) to look through the documents, which revolved around the creation of the U.S. Constitution, to write (and revise) thesis statements, to outline, and then to actually write the essay.

I should note that DBQs are typically done in a single class period, but in thinking about the purpose of a DBQ, I decided that the time limit was the absolute least important element--secondary by far to the skills of analysis and synthesis.  If enforcing a time limit would prevent students from developing and demonstrating these other skills, then the time limit ought to be done away with.  So, instead of a single 50-minute class period, we spent an entire week working on this.

While some students performed better than they expected, many did struggle, having gone so long without writing a full DBQ. 
I told the students that I blamed their 9th grade World History teacher for any struggle they had.  
It took the students a moment to realize that I was not trying to shift the blame.
I encouraged the students not to worry, that they would have two more DBQs in 11th grade, and that I would do everything I could to help them improve.

To make good on my word, I looked at the rubric data.  The class average for the first DBQ had been 77%.  The data told me that the main areas of struggle--the areas that a majority of students had scored low on--had been a lack of organization, and a shortage of background information (from lectures or readings) used in their support.  

So, these things became focuses for our next DBQ in January.  This DBQ asked students to evaluate the causes of the Civil War.  This time, I made a point of having the students write a thesis and list potential background information that they could use to support each point before they started writing the DBQ itself.  I stressed the importance of organizing their essay according to reasons and ideas rather than by documents and made sure each student was on the same page.  

Again, I reviewed the data after we had finished.  The class average had gone up to 84%--most students who had struggled the first time had found their stride.  This time, there were no scores that were especially low across the board--students were still mid-range on use of background information, but the scores for organization were above average.  There were still just a few students who had continued to struggle.

We completed our final DBQ in April, this final DBQ asking whether or not the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a military and political necessity.  We only used one full class-day to work on this DBQ.  I had a long conversation with a student who had not written a clear thesis on the previous DBQ and in checking back with him later, found he had written his first clear thesis of the year and was following it as he wrote his essay!  This time, no students were anxious or panicking--the students knew what they needed to do, and they got to work quietly and diligently.

The class average for the final set was 87%.  Nobody had failed, and most had done quite well.  

I know full well that numbers cannot tell me everything, but the story they told in this case was one of encouragement; one of fears and anxieties being overcome, for both the students and for myself.  

The lessons I've learned are perhaps obvious, but crucial nonetheless:
1) Fear is contagious--if I'm uncomfortable with something I am teaching, there's a high likelihood that this discomfort will be passed on to some of my students.
2) Teachers must be willing and enthusiastic learners--this is the only way we will bolster our areas of weakness.
3) If I'm going to assess on something, I better have taught it.
4) The teacher should be clear in his own mind on the purpose of an assessment and cut away anything which might disrupt that purpose. 
5) Data can help me to refine and focus my instruction more effectively.

I'm excited to continue to learn, to grow and to more intentionally use data to enhance my teaching in the coming year!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Tying it all together...

It was a bittersweet thing, introducing our final unit of the year in both my English and my Humanities classes this past week.

Bitter, because it's been a joyful year, rich in learning and growth for not only my students, but for me as well, and part of me wishes it wouldn't end.
Sweet, because I am looking forward to reading the essays, seeing the projects, and listening to the presentations that will mark the end of my classes for this year.

As I've repeated numerous times over the past year in this blog, and as I've repeated numerous times in class, the theme for my courses has been "Becoming People of Justice".  This "bigger picture" has focused my planning and teaching this year; has reined me in when I've been tempted to get carried away with details or on tangents; has provided a goal for my students and me to look ahead to.

I had told the students what their final assignments would be on the class syllabus I emailed to them before the first day of class, and now the destination does not seem so far off as it did then.  We've reached the doorstep.

This is the final unit: "Becoming People of Justice"
No surprises.
No drastic last-minute changes of plan.
This is where we've been going since the year began.

Our essential questions are:
1) What does it mean to be a person of justice?
2) What have I learned this year?
3) Where should I begin in fighting injustice?

The last five weeks of class will be dedicated to the following tasks, which will allow the students to answer these questions, and to demonstrate competency in the understandings and skills that they have learned in class this year.  Here are the brief descriptions of each that I included on the unit guide I sent out:

Becoming People of Justice—Essay:
Address the course question, “What does it mean to be a person of justice?” in an essay of 2000 words (give or take roughly 500 words).  Essay must include at least 5 literary references, at least 5 historical references, at least 5 Scripture references, one current event (your chosen comps topic) and connections to your own life and experience.

Theme Project:
Select one of our three major course themes ("Humanity’s Quest for Meaning"; "The Experience of the Hyphen-American (Diversity and Oppression)"; "Becoming People of Justice").  Create a project that demonstrates what you now understand about that theme.  Projects could be visual—a painting, a sculpture, a video, a dance; or audible—a poem, a song, a dramatic monologue.  The rules are simple: to choose the theme that resonated most with you and to give that theme the very best that your talents have to offer.  This is a celebration of learning!

Social Studies Objective Portfolio:
This will be your way of demonstrating your ultimate understanding of our social studies objectives from this year.  Just as you did with the science and technology objective/learning targets in the unit we just finished, reflect on the rest of the objectives, citing all relevant evidence and reflecting on each learning target.  Your understandings score will be based on how well you demonstrate your understanding of the standard as a whole—having plentiful evidence and articulating what the evidence means.

Culminating Events Presentation:
This will be a two-part presentation, looking back and then looking ahead:
1) Present your project.  If it was a song, poem, video, spoken-word or dance piece, this is your opportunity to perform!  If it was a visual project, this is your opportunity to share and explain it to your classmates.  This will serve as a look back and where you've come from over the course of the year.
2) Comps Soapbox speech.  Your objective is simple: tell your classmates why they should care about the topic you’ve chosen.  Your weapons?  Logos, ethos and pathos.  So, research thoroughly, research credibly and think of ways to make the issue come alive in the hearts of your classmates!  This will serve as a look ahead to where you are going; to the journey you are about to embark upon for your Senior year.

You will have a maximum of 10 minutes in which to do your presentation, so you will need to be economical with your time!

As I write this post, emails are already coming in from students deciding what they will research for their Senior Comprehensives project.  I'm already receiving questions about possible theses for the justice essay.   I'm hearing creative proposals for the final project.

Each question echoes in my mind with two familiar beats: Bitter. Sweet. Bitter. Sweet.

But the word is "Bittersweet" for a reason--the order is important.  While it may be "bitter" at first, difficult and even sad, it is "sweet" that has the last say, the feeling of blessing and joy that remains in the end.

So even as I get ready to say goodbye to the Class of 2016, the more powerful feeling is one of gratitude for the year we've had together, and excitement for what these students will accomplish, not only in the final weeks of my class, but far beyond.