This isn’t what you think it is. I’m not blue because I’m tired and worn out (though, I am) or because it’s just that time of year where teachers experience the height of the infamous burnout. I’m sad because I genuinely do not want this semester to end.
A card a student gave me today was unexpected and had me in tears. She wrote, “Thank you. Thank you for considering your students, and for encouraging our ideas and individuality, for making time in class to discuss ideas that weren’t on the curriculum, and for rebelling with the students against curriculum that doesn’t work. And thank you personally, for encouraging my project every step of the way, comforting me on presentation day. For believing in me and for being our friend.”
Maybe I’m being overly emotional, but I don’t think that’s it. I think I’ve just been so incredibly fortunate to have such a special group of students this semester, and I really do not want to see them go. If it was possible to fail them all and keep them another semester, I would (okay, not really…but you know what I mean). I’m not sure what has been so unique about this group of kids–maybe it’s a simple luck of the draw kind of thing where all the right kids got placed in all the right classes, maybe we just all jive really well together–I don’t know. I think, though, it’s because I really got to know these kids on a deeper level than I ever have before.
I changed a lot about my teaching this semester; with a heavier emphasis on the passion project, I wanted to carry that sense of freedom and dialogue over to other parts of the curriculum. I talked a lot more with these kids–not just on an academic level, but on a personal one–and, more importantly, I listened even more than I talked. I made my classroom a safe place to discuss, to challenge, to consider, explore, debate, divulge. And in simply being more real with my students, I opened the door for them to be more real with me, without even realizing I had done that.
Normally, I would highlight the few good presentations I had this semester, but there have been so many incredible projects presented this week that I could not do them justice if I tried. I would implore you to head to my passion project class website and browse through some of the current projects. Many kids chose service projects that made significant impacts on community organizations, and many more chose to dive into deeply personal topics and produced powerful and heart-wrenching work that is the very definition of passion. There is one project in particular, though, that has been close to my heart all semester, and I cannot help but direct you to it specifically.
As teachers, we’ve see bullying in our halls and classrooms, and we’ve seen the effects it can have on our young people. One of my students focused her entire project on bullying and the anxiety that comes along with it. She conducted in-depth research and even interviewed a school counselor and assistant principal about the issue. Her essay, published on her website is powerful and moving on its own, but her product (which is still a work in progress at the time of this writing, but no less powerful for its unfinished state) is beyond words. An exceptionally talented and unique artist, she told her story through an animated film in the hopes that her story would help others. You can find it here, and I hope you will: http://thepanicroomproject.weebly.com/product.html
Several of these kids have bared their souls in these projects–something I have never before experienced and truly never expected to. The passion project is responsible for this–I would have never gotten to know and love them as I do had it not been for this project. The nature of this project opens up pathways and topics of discussion that otherwise would be left undisturbed. And it creates, out of pure necessity, an atmosphere of trust and respect and openness–and it is amazing what those things can do to the relationship between teacher and pupil. I feel honored and humbled by what each of these kids brought to the table this semester, and I am going to miss them moving forward. But I suppose in the end that’s what I’m meant to do: empower them to move forward, leaving me behind. How bittersweet that duty.