Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Sunday was graduation day at the high school where I teach. (I avoid giving the name of my school so as not to trigger the Google Alert system, but it’s an all-boys’ boarding and day school. Not very hard to track that one down…)

I grew up in a family of public school advocates, and I do believe in the mission of public schooling.  However, one thing that has struck me about my teaching career at an elite prep school is the utter universality of childhood and adolescence. The trappings may be different (my public school colleagues encounter seersucker bow ties and boys driving recklessly in Land Rovers at probably 1/10,000th of the rate I do), but the truths spoken by Tex Evans, a spiritual mentor to me and the founder of the Appalachia Service Project, apply here just as well as they do in the county high schools out in the mountains, or the de-facto-segregated inner-city schools across the country. Tex Evans founded ASP on this principle: Every person wants essentially four things : to be loved, to belong, to own someting, to create something worthwhile. 

I shared Evans’ credo with my sophomores while we were studying One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich earlier this semester.  It resonated with them more strongly than I’d expected.  Many of the boys wrote beautiful papers about how, based on these principles, Ivan Denisovich manages to construct a fuller life in a Siberian gulag than some of them have at their fancy prep school.  Those four things – to be loved, to belong, to own something, to create something worthwhile – are what they want, too.  They are four things we all want, and when we keep the purity of those goals in mind, we lead more meaningful lives.

This year, my fourth teaching at this school, I’ve had the luxury of seeing my students more as individuals than I have in the past. It took me three years to figure out the drill, to grade and prep efficiently, to lose that sense of panicked disorientation, to walk the hallways and feel like I have the time to really  converse with the students.  Also, to be honest, I can be a little shy – it was easy for me to assume that the guys would rather not talk to their dorky English teacher who was never a teenage boy herself.

Thanks largely to re-reading Tex Evans, I’ve abandoned that shyness, sought to reach out a little more. It’s paying off.  What could have been a very, very stressful year for me (I was promoted, given new reponsibilities, and charged with teaching a class outside my knowledge base) has turned into probably the best teaching year I’ve had.

But, getting to know high school students has one major drawback – they grow up and leave. I had the class of 2011 as freshmen, again as juniors, and a handful again as seniors in an advanced writing class. I had probably 60 of them on the crew team, another dozen on the literary journal staff, and led about 10 of them on a trip to build homes in rural Appalachia.  They’ve been with me as I’ve come out of my shell and I’ve been with them as they grew from squeaky-voiced new guys to campus leaders.  They were a marvelously creative and service-oriented class – real idea guys.  On Sunday, I watched them parade across the stage in their school ties,white pants, and blue blazers, and now they’re off to new things.

In honor of this time of year, of commencements and the sense of pride and sadness that they bring, all my posts this week will be oriented to educational issues.  There really are good things going on in schools and cities across the country, and I intend to share what I know about a few of them.  I also have some poems I love and (of course) some photographs of the year to share.

Every day, in the name of education, teachers and volunteers work to provide four things to children and teenagers in all sorts of settings. Be loved. Belong. Own something. Create something worthwhile.  And, often, the kids surprise the grown-ups by offering those four things to each other, and to their teachers and parents, in return. This is especially true at this time of year – May – when endings and beginnings abound.


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