Monday, June 13, 2011

End-of-Year Mini Reflection

To be frank, I did not enjoy the end of this school year. For some reason, towards the end of May a bunch of stuff happened that left a sour taste in my mouth. Like, plagiarism type of stuff. It made me feel sick in my stomach to know that cheating is so rampant at the school -- at all levels, honors and regular, and relatively few kids seem immune to it. It seems like lots of kids care overly much about their grades and think it's harmless to cheat occasionally, and lots of other kids who do value the actual learning still think that it's harmless to help their friends cheat once in a while.

This realization turned the year around for me, in a negative way. Instead of looking forward to my classes everyday, I walked in daily and felt like I was in the middle of strangers whom I couldn't trust, and I was just counting the days until it was over. Not a good feeling to end the year on, especially because I had felt all along that we were doing great projects and the kids were putting in a lot of effort. It just seemed like something had happened during the last two weeks of the school year, because all of a sudden my high-effort kids just dropped off and stopped studying, around the same time as the series of distressing and disappointing plagiarism incidents.

Thinking back, last year (2009-2010) at around the same time in late May, my bottom kids were staying with me once a week for extra help, and the rest of the class envied them as their test grades jumped up 20% from the beginning of the quarter to the end -- a reflection of their improved understanding, as a direct result of their efforts and perseverance. I remember feeling euphoric, like I knew the kids were ready to be sophomores and to take on additional responsibilities and challenges. This year? I am not so sure. What an awful feeling to end the year on.

...So, there I was, ready to go into the summer wondering about my own worth as a teacher. ("Maybe if I were a better teacher, my kids would not have ended the year with these negative choices. Clearly I messed up big somewhere to cause this..." type of thinking.) And yet, all of a sudden, kids started trickling in to thank me for having taught them and to say goodbye before I leave for Germany. Some of the kids I have not taught in a year. One girl whom I have taught now for two years wrote me a thank-you card that said, in short, that I have changed her relationship with math.

Then I was busy with packing and cleaning and closing accounts, so I did not have time to sort through my feelings about all of this. Until today.

Today was our last faculty meeting. During the meeting, the principal wanted us to go around and share what were the key uplifting moments for us this year. Mired still in my (I guess you could call it) anger and hurt about the plagiarism incidents, I had trouble recalling the highlights that made my year. And then two things came into mind. One of them was when my juniors in Precalculus started showing up to see me after school for help, sometime in Q3. Some weeks they would come once in a big group; other weeks they'd come one or two at a time, everyday. And how, a couple of months later, when the intercom announced that it was Teacher Appreciation Week, this class burst into spontaneous cheering and applause. For me! When I was not even looking at them. (I was writing something on the board at the time to take advantage of the morning announcement.) The other outstanding memory was the thank-you card that I had described above. I can't do it justice, so I took a picture of it to share with you why a single card had such an emotional impact on me.

Thinking -- I mean, really thinking and letting my emotions sink in -- about these two particular incidents during the meeting finally brought me out of the semi-depressed rut that I had been in for the past few weeks. I still have so much to learn and I want to be SO much of a better teacher in Germany than I was here, but maybe, in the end, this year itself wasn't all bad.

So, Prost! to a new beginning! This is the true blessing of a teacher: each year, we each get a fresh chance at getting it right. Or, at least, getting closer to getting it right.

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