Note: This was written on Tuesday, but had some publishing delays.
Today was hard.
Early in my teaching career, I full-heatedly embraced the concept of “fake it until you make it”. I made elaborate pump-up mixes that I listened to up to the second the students entered. In my head, I became the greatest that has ever taught – none had come before me, and none would come again. I was Dawkins exiting the tunnel.
I still share this as one of my tops pieces of teacher-wisdom1. What I don’t always share was my end of the day routine, in which I collapsed in a puddle of self-loathing. I wasn’t good enough, I knew it, and I burned.
Years later, I try not to get too high or too low. I still work to be “out of pocket”, and I always scrounge time to reflect. But then today happened.
I coordinated our first ever Signing Day2. Seniors who had some sort of commitment to college – course schedule, deposit receipt, housing designation, – would “sign” like a major athlete. My pledge was student reviewed, I had 3 different grades speak, and my hype man was…hype. The participating Seniors were glowing with pride.
But the inescapable, unflinching truth was that less than a third of the graduating Seniors participated. In mid-May, from a strong class. One. Third.
Yes, it would have been nice to have a guidance counselor the whole year. It would be cool if financial aid didn’t require a financial aid expert; I’d appreciate colleges that understand that when we write “none” under the line for expected parental contribution, we’re not kidding. And no, it wasn’t a waste. The Juniors were interested. If this motivates some seniors to call about that application deadline, I’m doing alright. I’m not embracing the “teacher as superman” industrial complex.
But two-thirds of my kids are, as of mid-May, not ready for post-High School success. Two f&*ing third.
I think this is the point of my writing where I comment how it would be swell if the State government wasn’t joined in the most unlikely of conspiracies to profit from my kids’ failures, but I’m beyond that. I’m exhausted at the sheer mental gymnastics that, even without exact statistics, a bloc of successful, intelligent students, not enough to field a football team but more than enough to hold a minion, are engaged in some kind of society-enabled sabotage. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it.
And next up is 12+ hours of state-mandated exams.
I had two graduates come back from Penn State’s Main campus, both top students from their class (including grades and proficiency on state tests). Both of them are transferring to the local branch – despite good academic standing. Maybe this is what they feel like, staring at a sheer cliff made out of obstacles beyond their control. You’ve climbed this far. What now?
I’m glad I don’t have these days quite as often as I used to, but I’m glad I have them. I think a of of other people have them, too. Maybe it should be some sort of requirement. If we aren’t humbled by the task ahead, and the tasks we haven’t discovered yet, and the tasks that will arise from the mistakes we will make, then it’s really over. Today was hard. But it’s days like this that keep us going in the right direction. I hope.