When I was growing up, there was something on television called TGIF – a lineup of amazing shows every Friday night starting at 8pm. I lived for this each week, and though the lineup changed over the years I can still remember my favorite shows – Full House, Family Matters, and the incomparable Boy Meets World.
Boy Meets World was a series about Cory, Shawn, Topanga, and their adventures through adolescence with friends and family. Central to their seven year journey through middle and high school was Mr. Feeny, the wise and beloved teacher. During most 30-minute episodes, it was Mr. Feeny who provided the sage advice and cohesion that Cory needed in order to understand school, relationships, or life.
As I was flipping through the channels on my second day of summer vacation, I stumbled upon the series finale of Boy Meets World. Suddenly I found myself nearly weeping during the last scene, a dramatic conclusion of the relationship between Mr. Feeny and his students. In the classroom where he taught them for so many years, they asked if he had anything else to teach them. When he said no, they asked for one more thing.
“Tell us you love us.”
What a loaded statement coming from a student to a teacher. Mr. Feeny handles it with his usual certainty,
“There is a line between teacher and student that must never be crossed.”
And he’s right. The relationship between teacher and student is special and encompasses so many other roles. As a teacher, I’ve attended concerts and games, punished teenagers, bought clothes and school supplies when my students couldn’t afford any, organized celebrations, and answered every question imaginable. I’ve worn the hat of counselor, cheerleader, parent, disciplinarian, judge, jury, and audience. Like most other educators, I’ve pulled 12-hour days only to bring work home with me at night so that I can wake up and do it all again the next day.
After his students have left and he is alone in his classroom, Mr. Feeny proclaims quietly, “I love you all.”
Whatever else I believe to be true, I know that love is an action, and I love my students too.
Our school has a lot of really great technology for students to use, including iPad and iPod carts. I’ve been using the iPod cart quite a bit lately for test review, and my students are able to play a lot of interactive (and free) social studies apps.
This morning while I was swearing in a new group of National Junior Honor Society students, several of my homeroom students covertly stole 7 iPods from the cart in my room. The substitute had no clue what happened , and I didn’t even realize they were gone until an anonymous tipster encouraged me to take inventory.
After a four-hour investigation, lock-down, and manhunt, all but one iPod was accounted for. As my day ended, I walked in the holding room to face the twelve thieves and conspirators. I looked around and was all-at-once disappointed, shocked, and angry. I stared at the faces of students who I invested countless hours in and some of whom I thought I knew better than this. I felt betrayed, and thought that after all these days, hours, and classes together, they would make better decisions. I thought they were different people.
I have been a teacher for five years; the last four have been in urban, at-risk schools. Whenever I tell people where I teach, the reaction is usually, “Oh, you’re brave”, or “I’ve heard those kids are terrible.” My reaction is always to ask, “Have you ever been to our school? Do you know my students?” The answer is always no, because people are always judgemental.
I have always been proud to teach where I do, and to teach who I do. For a little while today, I was upset, mad, disappointed, and sickened. But I am still proud of my students – not the decisions they made today, but the growth and progress the vast majority of them have shown throughout the school year.
As I looked through my emails from the day, there was a reminder from my principal about the best way to tell students their test scores. “Be mindful of those who did not pass,” she warned, “and celebrate the successes.”
Days like today happen. Students grow up and make their own decisions – sometimes they’re bad. But today was just one day, and I still have many successes to celebrate.
My second year of teaching began at a new school with a new teacher orientation that included a pep talk of sorts from my principal. I learned that he, like me, is an NC State fan, and he quickly earned my trust when he quoted the famous coach Jimmy V.
“Success doesn’t happen overnight.” He paraphrased. He talked about attending district events where other principals, teachers, and superintendants would ask him what it was like to be such a huge “overnight success”. He quickly pointed to the 180 days worth of instruction that took place to get to that “overnight” success, and his point was well-received. Small steps to a larger goal.
This morning as I monitored students taking their Civics & Economics exam, I was reminded of the sentiment I learned years ago from a principal who has been through many more challenges than me. For a moment, I worried that they wouldn’t know the answers; but then I remembered how far they have come. Most importantly, I remembered that their lives will continue beyond the answers to a 50-question multiple choice exam, and I taught them things that they can use and remember forever. They learned because of me.
I don’t have their results back yet – the administration withholds the scores for some unknown reason. Whether they are 9% proficient or 99% proficient, I will rest easy knowing that we all did our best for 180 days, and that any success achieved was fought for every single one of those days.
And when all else fails, I know this to be true: Testing sucks.