This is a picture of my desk at the start of the last quarter of the school year. It will never look like this again; clean and organized, detritus free. When students return, it will be covered with messages, writings, notes, plans, letters, and ideas. Things to remember and things I will surely, based on past experience, forget. The live of my students are written on the papers filling my desk. I am at my last chance to make a difference to them. I know I will fall short with some of them and that nags at me.
Also on my desk is my mantra for the year. I tried harder this year than any other of the last 31 to make it true:
‘My job is to help create readers and writers, nothing else!’
I know I have helped some of them along that path. Yesterday the applications to be our first Writing Center Tutors next year were made available and several of my students fairly exploded with the announcement. These particular young people consider themselves real writers, with real voice, and the confidence to help others become real writers, too. It fills my heart to see this self belief. (When I was 12, I was a mass of corrupting hormones, with self-doubt vying with shyness for supremacy!) I admire these young people so very much. I know they will make a difference to struggling writers next year because I have seen them do just that in our classroom nearly every day.
But there is a girl in one of my classes, who always seems an eyelash length away from tears, and has yet to find a way to write herself out of the sadness. I only have a few weeks left to find a way in, to find a place where she will trust me, and then herself, enough to let go, and perhaps heal that dark hurt just a bit. I want her to know that writing can help in ways nothing else can, that it can help her find and mend the broken places even if she doesn’t know what those are yet. I want her to feel the release that writing can provide, the clarity it can bring, and the way it can bridge your life to the other side of sadness. I haven’t found our opening yet and I’m running out of time.
A boy in another block on another day may be the grumpiest 12 year old I’ve ever met. Constantly complaining, always challenging, repeating, ‘I’m bored!’ with such regularity it feels like background noise now, and having to get it right to get the ‘A’ without any real concern for content or quality. If I don’t show him the difference between the two goals this last quarter, will someone else do it? I hope so, but I’m not completely sure because he’s smart and motivated and many teachers might think he is the model student. But underneath all that accomplishment is a scared little boy so unsure of his gifts that he requires the ‘right’ path be delineated precisely before he makes a single step. But his brilliance would be so beautiful if it was set free! Just once, I want him to find success on his own, through trial and error. I know he could do it but I haven’t convinced him through 3 quarters of trying. If I miss this chance, will he never fill the billowing pride of self satisfaction for a job well done? Or will he chase an ‘A’ for the rest of his life, get an ulcer in college, and be dead of a heart attack at 43? This is the stuff that keeps me up at night.
One of my favorite things about teaching is the fresh start we get each year. Clean slate, do overs with the chance to do better. The flip side is that we only get one year to impact our students. The only thing I can control is my year with them, so the responsibility of helping them become readers and writers weighs heavily, especially with the end so near, and my desk so clear.