Final Days

 The world didn’t end. May 21 has passed — and we’re still here. I know 9 million bloggers have already pointed this out, but I thought it might make a good segue into my topic: Finals Week.

It is the week before the last week of school, just a few days until we get down to the serious business of deciding who passes and who fails. As always, both students and teachers are sick of it all, ready to be done with the tests and go home a week early. This would solve a lot of problems – papers to grade, whiny kids, water balloons, and whatever else bored teenagers can dream up.

But we have been commanded to wait. If we give finals early, we will have more food fights, more water balloons, more flip-flops being worn against dress code. (Why do they even make rules about flip-flops? Those who make such decisions have bigger things to worry about that what kids are wearing on their feet.) We will have less academic seriousness, fewer students highly educated and ready for life in the 21st century.

Why is it that kids never want to learn anything new the week before the most important grades of the year? They should be working their buns off, knowing that summer break is almost here. Instead, they say, “Can we have a free day?” or “Can we play a game?”

Why do I even bother to try to teach?

Teenagers never want to work. Mondays are out; they’re too tired from the weekend. Fridays are out; it’s almost the weekend so we ought to play a game. Any day near a vacation is out; I’ve never understood it, but the week before and after any break are supposed to be devoted to watching movies. If we used kid-logic to decide the school calendar, we would do actual work exactly one day of the school year: the first Wednesday in March. That date is too distant to glom onto a vacation, removed from the possibility of bad weather, and not near a weekend. It’s nowhere near Homecoming or Prom. Valentine’s Day is over, and Easter is not yet here. Winter Break is long gone; Spring Break is a distant hope. And proficiency tests are hovering on the horizon. On that day alone – the first Wednesday in March – can we demand that students knuckle down without expecting any serious protests.

For eight months I have weathered complaints, ignored all whininess. Now I’m tired. Lesson plans? I might as well bang my head against the wall. Trying to get kids to focus and learn something this week is almost futile. If you want to dismiss me as a slacker, part of the problem rather than the solution, you have never been in a high school the week before final exams.

Right now, twelve hours before first period, it doesn’t feel worth the effort to wrangle with kids over writing a hundred words about anything. Have I become cynical?

My son (also a teacher) wants me to read Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire. I could make a joke about water balloons putting out hair fires, but at the moment I lack the ambition to put it into words properly so it will sound humorous. Humor is all that keeps me going at times like this.

But I do want to read the book. And I want to believe what the man says. I just can’t get psyched up for still more advice on what we ought to be doing. Everybody’s always telling us what we we’re not doing right. And my son is in Japan — I don’t think Japanese teachers are being blamed for the demise of civilization. Not yet.

I don’t see myself as a cynical person. My enthusiasm wanes at times, but I continue to try new things, inspire my students, try do my job better. When I’m driving to school at 6 a.m., I look forward to my day and its challenges.

Tomorrow looms like a thundercloud that won’t quite let loose. I plan. We will discuss good and evil in English 11 (we read The Lottery last week), work on final portfolios for Creative Writing, translate the Rape of Europa in Latin. The world hasn’t ended, and these things still matter.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. theteachingwhore
    May 24, 2011 @ 12:06:11

    I love “The Lottery!” My various classes ended the school year with The Scarlet Letter, Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, urban legends, and graphic novels. I’ve also been engaged in a one-sided email campaign to our state’s education superintendent (newly elected, never been a teacher). Indeed, these things do still matter.

    Reply

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