We’re approaching the end of a wildly difficult year. We weren’t able to connect with our students like we normally would. This year, I taught most of the year behind a screen with a mask on and a horseshoe shaped plexiglass wall surrounded my desk. On top of all this, I also teach seniors, who are burned out from staring at a screen, completing applications and taking standardized tests. It’s more important than ever to end the year with an activity that they’ll remember.
I’m always trying to find creative ways to help my students make meaning from their education and walk out into the world with a burning optimism that they can make the world better than it is. That small actions make a large difference.
When we see something beautiful, when we immerse ourselves in the creativity of an inventor or writer or musician, when we cheer on a team, or when we risk it all and write a poem or shoot a basketball or plant a flower, despite the possibility that we might fail or be criticized for our performance, when we live, we do it out of love. We do it because there’s something special about the colors and patterns on clothes, or the grace of a dance move, or the skill behind jumping on a skateboard. It might be the bold idea of solar roadways or the explosiveness of “Hold Up” by Beyonce. I’ll never forget watching that music video for the first time in my classroom.
At the end of the year, I ask my students to present on something. Anything. Literally anything. One student talked about her obsession with Jane Austen. Another talked about the fact that I wore red pants every Friday. It was very philosophical. I learn about their passions, and what vision they have for the world they live in but have little power to control. I’ve seen places in Arizona I’ve never visited, I’ve heard students sing original songs and play videos of their proudest moments on stage from childhood. They’ve showed pages from their favorite comic books and played clips of music videos by Kesha. This simple assignment, “present on anything” is my favorite time of the year. I don’t teach at all. I just react and ask questions and applaud. I learn so much about who my students are and what they want. I learn about pop culture, history, architecture, science, and comedy.
They do what I’ve been asking them to do all year: clearly communicate your perspective and understanding of the world you live in. What makes it better? What inspires you? What makes something beautiful? What have you learned about living? About work, art, culture, imagination, education, family, creativity, and relationships? What is an act of love?
You’ll be shocked that they have so many answers to these big questions. We’ve picked the novels, the poems, the essays, the songs, the paintings, the videos, the podcasts, and the movies all year. Now it’s their turn. When we stop teaching, for once, and sit back and really listen, when we give up all control, wonderful things happen.
English language arts teacher
Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers