These are seniors. Immediately, they take dreams as a synonym for future. I put on music and instruct them to begin writing. It takes a good ten minutes for the shuffling, bathroom breaks and mini-conversations to fade. I love to watch the students work when they find their pace.
Makayla taps her foot and moves her lips as she writes. Chris stares intently at some given focal point then microbursts on his page. Others doodle—erase with vehemence. Jake enters his writing space by meticulously removing the perforated edges of his freshly torn-out notebook paper. There are rituals of avoidance and of care everywhere I look.
I see myself in their habits like a multitude of selves in a mirrored medicine cabinet. I wonder if they ever see themselves reflected in me in some way, and whether or not such a reflection is important. I decide that it is—primarily because I never connected with a sense of my potential in any of my high school teachers. Ever.
When I reunite with friends made in high school, I’m always stunned at how many details they remember. Names of assignments, teachers and teacher habits. I do remember the boots my American Government teacher wore so I’ll recall this detail as an offering to my friends’ recollection pool.
Those boots were really more like lifts. He always crossed his legs on his desk while he read the paper and shushed us. His shushes were like a metronome. I remember on one of the only occasions that I saw him stand up being stunned by how short he was. Why this elfin and booted man had any power over my future is still lost on me. Study guide after study guide… the year the Berlin Wall toppled. Study guides the year Nelson Mandela was released. What a waste.
I gaze around the classroom and hope that I’m providing a turnkey to some kind of relevance. I don’t mean that I want to be remembered. Maybe that’s exactly what I mean. There is narcissism in any kind of performance—there has to be.
Teaching is a great deal of performance. Still, I remember being able to detect artifice at their age. Teenagers are the best generators of bs, but they do it with such earnestness. Best yet, they can smell it on others immediately. They are natural litmus tests for the unauthentic.
My methodology has been to mostly tell the truth when they ask questions. It is not gentle truth nor harsh. More abstract. Truth with potential.
How long does this need to be?
Long enough to traverse each content in complete sentences.
Is this for a grade?
If I grade it.
When the bell rings, it begins to rain. In the desert, rain changes the energy of any room. My sophomores are next and they arrive to class with wistful gazes out our slender window or they arrive giddy and amped up from the rare weather. They see notes on the board about the dream memoir assignment. Collin asks if we are doing that assignment right now. Jaycee echoes his question with a request to please do that assignment right now.
Looking out the window, I glimpse the Superstition Mountains in the distance change from their usual rustic brown to a near violet hue beneath thick, low storm clouds. We should be working on argument and persuasion while studying Orwell’s Animal Farm.
The students will take the ‘high stakes’ test in a matter of months. I will be evaluated as a teacher in part by their performance on the test. It is pouring. The class waits for an answer regarding their assignment.
I respond that in the time it takes me to finish attendance they will work with their tables to form an argument for or against completing the dream-memoir assignment.
This class is an honors class and they have learned to risk enthusiasm. Justin’s table argues that no assignments should be undertaken today because it is raining. Nathan offers support by compiling percentages of rainfall in the last year and uses the word logos in his passionate citation. Kevin tries to detach himself from the group lest I be offended, but he does comment that because rain is so rare we should do something to mark the occasion. Something that has nothing to do with learning.
Tara, a transfer student speaks next. She is slowly finding her voice and it is lovely—dry at times but always full of wonder. She is in favor of the assignment because she is interested in hearing what others her age could possibly tell about themselves in a memoir. Other than my move from Pennsylvania, she says, I’ve got nothing.
Brianna adds that we rarely get to write creatively and wouldn’t it be fun. Daniel groans because he knows I will now lecture about the need for creativity in every style of writing. I ask him to tell the class what he thinks I will say. He does a magnificent impression of me—we are left laughing and I’m embarrassed by how passionate he makes me sound about writing essays of value.
The arguments continue and become more creative with each table. Throughout, we have touched on the rhetorical triangle, logical fallacies and veered off on a long tangent about the types of clouds as well as another tangent about grades. Five minutes before class is to end, I point out that they have argued the class and the assignment away. I notice Ryleigh roll her eyes.
She is very concerned with the lack of structure this period. I love her. Her white back pack is spotless even this far into the year. Every paper is placed in a labeled binder. She has each brand of writing implement, a ruler at the ready and her agenda is always thoroughly filled out. I once saw that she had scheduled time to watch television with her sister for one hour. She raises her hand.
Do we have homework?
No, of course not. It’s raining.
Oh, okay. So then can I ask a question about today?
Did you plan on this? Did you mean to have us apply argument stuff without making us all like aware of it?
Of course I did.
I knew it. I knew you did it on purpose.
It is not always easy to trust in the teaching process—by this I mean to trust my students. Equally hard is to trust myself to be adult-enough and worthy enough of being their guide--still, such trust beats worksheets hands down.
I wish I could be assessed by how well I know my students. I wish they could be assessed on how well they know themselves.