As the end of each school year draws near, I feel a great deal of frustration. As students are overwhelmed with culminating assignments or the decisions that they made about completing school work for the previous 9 months, the demands on the teacher expand exponentially as well. As I work with the Growing Success system and school programs such as student success and credit rescue, I struggle to ensure that the decisions that I make maintain the integrity of the course, give students the opportunities they deserve or need, and maintain the intent of the ideals of character education. I find this overwhelming.
As I was on my way home from work one day, my mind ran in circles. It had been a presentation day in my Facing History course, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, and despite the incredible work of most of the students, my mind was stuck on two students who had completely missed the point. Over and over again, I thought about what I could have done differently. I came up with many ideas, but, since I lack the ability to travel through time, none that I could implement. There is also, of course, the small problem of whether or not the student has the time, energy, or desire to be part of said implementation...but I digress. This is just a sample of the frustrating swirl of end of the year blues brought on by the human tendency to focus on what went wrong, because that is what we want to change. This is a dangerous place to be, since it can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair, which are incredibly destructive.
When I arrived at home, I tried to force myself to focus on the positive. I thought about the students who had shared ways that the Genocide course had helped them to become agents of change in their own lives and the lives of people around them. I tried to walk back through presentations from students who had created action projects that sparked hour long debates in their philosophy class or who had reached out to strangers in need because they wanted to consciously expand their universe of obligation. While this was some comfort, my mind still kept trying to return to things less encouraging.
At that moment, I remembered that a former student of mine had attended and filmed “Stand Up, Speak Out” at the Royal Ontario Museum. Memories of how incredible that evening had been led me straight to my laptop to try to recapture that feeling. As I watched my students pour their hearts and minds out to the audience, I felt pride at what these young people had learned about the world and themselves. The voices they had found within themselves were breathtaking. Near the end was my performance. My piece was in response to several students’ pieces that focused on the intense negativity of history; the things that we want to change. I felt that this was dangerous as it is my goal that the course helps young people feel empowerment, not futility. My students reminded me that our year together was one full of learning and growth within a strong community. I reminded myself that dwelling on the mistakes of the past can be just as dangerous as forgetting and that in the effort to change our world we must cling to, fight for, and embrace hope in everything that we do.
As Nelson Mandela said:
"I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended."
Enjoy your summer break teachers. Use your well earned moments' rest to prepare for the hills of next year.
P.S. belated Happy Nelson Mandela Day!