If you’re a fellow Middle School teacher like me, you might not have the opportunity to go to graduation in your district. And why would you? The kids might not remember you, you only had them for 50 minutes a day, you were with them at probably some of their worst years- heck you won’t even recognize them.
A colleague and I started a tradition of going to our high schools’ graduation as our official wrap up to the school year. There’s not many that go from the middle school- lots from the elementary schools! I love seeing them clutching framed class pictures with tears in their eyes like proud mamas. “Look at how little they were!” they’d tell me.
This year was very special to me. I remembered this class as a crew that I genuinely enjoyed, but that challenged me a lot. One boy that particularly challenged me as an eighth grader came back to visit me a few weeks ago. He was notorius for typical eighth grade boy shenanigans that actually led me to officially forget who else was in that class as they graduated. When I saw him Friday in his cap and gown he said to me, “You made it!” My eyes filled with tears as I thought, “No, YOU made it!” I insisted on this selfie so that I have a daily reminder that when faced with a difficult student, continue to try to connect with them and never lower your expectations. It will be worth it.
Another defining moment came during a musical performance by two more of my former students.
A post shared by Spencerport Schools (@spencerport_central_schools) on Jun 23, 2017 at 5:07pm PDT
These two always were very musically inclined and they used to sing ALL. THE. TIME. in school. So much that there were days that I would groan, “Will they EVER just shut up?!” Watching them so in their element, the passion radiating from each of them in that moment, rocked me to the core. Who was I to ever suggest that they squash that one piece of themselves that made their souls literally sing?
How often do we run into situations when our students have a passion and we force them to shut that piece of themselves off to fit our mold and expectation of being “educated” in our content? How could I have incorporated that passion of theirs (or anyone else’s for that matter) more into my course to excite them and further grow them as future musical heroes?
The terms “genius hour” and “passion projects” are big buzzwords in education these days, and it doesn’t take a degree in education to know that allowing students to pursue what they love is a great way to engage them in the educational process. So why do we insist that kids put that piece of their heart away so we can stuff them in rows and pump information in them that really, doesn’t matter to them at this point?
Science, for example, is not a topic that speaks to a lot of 6th graders, but I was amazed at hearing them use words like “ratio” and “consistency” appropriately while making pounds of slime over the course of this year. Some would tinker with the base recipe, trying to find a new way to change the texture, smell, or color. Isn’t that just another version of the scientific process? Isn’t that applying growth mindset to develop grit? Others created Instagram accounts for their slime recipes to share their creations, quickly amassing hundreds of followers. How’s that for “Global Communication?”
And we all wanted to ban the stuff.
My final brag on graduation came the next day when this photo was shared with me. These two boys were also in one of my 8th grade Spanish classes. The boy on the left is a graduate of our inter-district Social Skills class for students on the Autism Spectrum who took Spanish to fulfill his graduation requirement as well as to have an opportunity to integrate in the general education population. The boy on the right is your classic All-American, well-liked, varsity athlete kind of guy. This is what he posted on Instagram the day after graduation:
Long story short, if I couldn’t do this job, I don’t know what I’d ever do with myself. I’m fully refreshed and ready for September. Who’s with me?
To the Class of 2017- thank you for teaching me more than I likely taught you. I learned about patience, humor, passion and compassion. Go on and do great things because I know you have it in you!