by Jim Lang
As teachers stagger towards the finish line to another school year, we’re always filled with a odd mix of emotions.
The most obvious, frankly, is exhaustion.
There is a special brand of exhaustion that defines the end to any school year for teachers. It affects each of us in unique ways. For me it usually results in a manic desire to hide my phone and migrate to my couch to read, nap, and/or watch a marathon of the latest TV show to grab my attention.
Several summers ago it was “LOST.” Last summer it was “The Walking Dead.” This summer? Looks like it’s “House of Cards,” because let’s face it, only crooked politicians are more disturbing to today’s teachers than being stranded on a remote island or fighting hordes of mindless zombies.
More powerful than the year-end exhaustion, though, is my sense of accomplishment in the successes of my students.
One of the joys to teaching is that, much like life, it provides moments of satisfying finishes and renewed hope. Next week provides the twenty-first time I have completed my teaching year with pride in my students and their work as writers and journalists. It also marks the twenty-first time I have had to say “good-bye” to a special group of seniors.
Advising media and publications allows me to teach and learn from some students for multiple years. Many of the seniors I will say “good-bye” to next week spend a majority of their days in my classroom; I have taught some of them for four years. It’s no exaggeration to say that I have watched many of them grow up. They leave a legacy of excellence at Floyd Central High School. The pride I have in these seniors’ exceptional journalistic work and integrity is exceeded only by my certainty that some of them will make a difference in a world that desperately needs their bold leadership and a more selfless moral code.
This school year ends, too, with a sense of hope in what is possible. Just as my seniors leave to make their marks on the world, younger students who remain now have the chance to step up, to lead, to make our media program theirs, to build upon the legacy left by our seniors and those who came before them.
My sentimentality at watching great kids leave is always balanced by my hopeful curiosity of “What’s next?” What will the next group of journalists accomplish? Who will emerge to lead? What will they report and write next year? What books will we share and discuss next year?
My pride in my own students is matched, too, by my pride in my teaching colleagues. I teach with the most gifted, caring people I know. I am also blessed to be a part of a state-wide group of journalism educators who believe in the power of student media. I marvel at the sheer talent of these teachers. I learn so much from them. I value their wisdom, humor, and friendship.
If I am being honest, though, this year, more than any other in the last twenty-one years, also ends with a profound sense of disappointment.
I am disappointed that far too many educators, parents, and politicians bow at the altar of standardized test scores, test preparation, percentages, and pass-rates that so falsely “prove” our teaching effectiveness or our students’ genuine learning.
I am disappointed that we test students entirely too much.
I am disappointed that we continue to tolerate educational scams like corporate charter schools, private school vouchers, merit pay, or credit recovery or virtual learning programs that too often replace rigor with convenience and a false sense of accomplishment.
I am disappointed that far too many people feign concern over closing elementary schools while continuing to elect the very people to statewide office whose policies are most responsible for closing schools and shrinking budgets.
I am disappointed in Indiana’s weak leadership and persistent lack of support for and belief in our educators and public schools.
I am disappointed that teachers’ voices and expertise are too often ignored even as salaries remain embarrassingly stagnant.
I am disappointed that so many teachers nationwide now express disappointment in our profession while so few citizens ask “Why?” or even care.
As my twenty-first year of teaching ends, my hope still outshines my disappointment, though. My hope is grounded in my students. Some are so tolerant and giving. Others are perceptive and self-aware. Others, still, are unwaveringly moral. And a few are beyond smart — they are wise.
My hope lies in their intellect, compassion, and capacity for change.
My hope lies in my belief that their generation will be more selfless than mine.
That’s what will bring me back to my classroom in July (yes, July!) for at least one more year of teaching– the chance to do my small part to educate and prepare tomorrow’s leaders.
Until then, though, excuse me as I turn off my phone, grab a good book, and lose myself in a few hours of mindless storytelling.
Remote island adventures, dangerous zombies, and unscrupulous politicians await.