Dear Jen Hatmaker:
I need to start by thanking you for your famous "Worst End of School Year Mom Ever" blog post. For me (and for many other mothers, I suspect), rereading this classic has become an annual event, as much a part of the season as Jonathan Winters' reading of "A Christmas Carol" is of Christmas, or Sousa's marches evoke the Fourth of July. But as much as I love this post as a fellow mother, I love it on a whole nother deeper broader level of appreciation that you can't even imagine. Because just as you had that Beginning of School Enthusiasm, replete with labeled folders and a dozen sharpened pencils and backpacks that coordinated with lunch boxes, I had that same ambitious outlook as a teacher. I started the year with a tidy work space, the "borrow jar" in the back of the room well-stocked with spare writing utensils, folders labeled and unit materials neatly organized. Calendars were established, photocopies run, hall passes neatly hung by the sign-out sheet with care in hopes that learning and accomplishment soon would take place there. But now that we are within sight of the finish line, I can safely say, to use your own words:
I am exactly still like that at the end of school, except the opposite.
My classroom is a living testimony to this. I struggle to be organized under the best of (well-rested) circumstances, so now I don't stand a shot. Random piles of papers dot every flat surface in my classroom. The box of markers that was organized by color and full to the brim in September is now a half-filled hodgepodge of hues, with all the black and brown markers missing. My hall passes have all disappeared, the kids are signing out of class with a half a broken crayon, and the paperwork! I used to be so on top of who had passed in which assignment, and who passed it in late, and why it was late, and whether it was excused-late or unexcused-late, and how late it was and now.... well, now I barely know if the kids have passed in their work or not and if I've even remembered to log the assignment in PowerSchool. Why? Come closer and I'll tell you why.....closer........now listen very carefully, because I can only say this once:
I don't care anymore.
I don't care. I don't care so hard. Really, kids, I just want you to pass in the &%$# work and be done with it. Seriously. Just do the work. It doesn't matter anymore why it wasn't done in the first place. You lost the original handout after you filled it out completely and your study hall teacher saw you do it? Have him send me an email. You had dress rehearsal last night til 10 pm and your parents made you go home and go straight to bed? Get to me by the end of the day. You forgot about it, even though it was in your folder marked HOMEWORK and I had it written on the board under HOMEWORK and it was listed on the class blog and the team calendar under HOMEWORK? Sigh....finish it tonight and bring it in as soon as you can. You didn't do it because your special select elite travel U-14 private league hockey team had a 92-day tournament in Talkeetna, Alaska, and the wi-fi conked out in the hotel so you couldn't log onto the school website and submit the assignments the way you and your mom and your coach all swore up and down that you would do every day without fail? Whatever, here's a textbook, read chapters 5 to 72 inclusive, do the section reviews at the end, and we'll call it good. Please, I beg of you: Just. Do. The. Work. In some form. To some level of completeness. With some modicum of accuracy. Do something so that I can claim, with a straight face and a remnant of pride in my professionalism, that you learned and retained some fragment of all the concepts, skills, content, and habits of mind that I worked so dang hard to instill in you through this school year. Or at the very least, don't look blank when someone asks you what Independence Day stands for and why we have that day off. Really. Either/or.
But back to you, Jen! I can empathize with you when you say, "I feel like any sort of school energy required at this point is pure oppression, like the universe is trying to destroy me," because while it may seem counterintuitive to you outside the walls of academe, we teachers feel the exact same way. I'm so tiiiiiiiiired and I have five classes and that is just too many to keep track of. The band and chorus kids are out at a competition, the Diversity Club is running an assembly and I just got a chipper email reminding me that some other random collection of students won't be in class tomorrow and make sure to give them all their work before they leave! Give them their work? GIVE THEM THEIR WORK???? I don't even KNOW what that work is going to BE, yet! I have to try to remember what I assigned them yesterday, do a quick head count of how many of them didn't finish it (spoiler alert: upwards of 90%), and then perform the academic equivalent of triage to figure out which parts of that assignment absolutely, positively have to get done and then drag the kids through it via a combination of bribes, threats, and if necessary, a block and tackle. Then, and only then, can I begin to wrap my brain around what we're going to do tomorrow. Maybe that's why your kids' teachers have been giving out so many assignments along the lines of the Living History Museum. I bet every single progressive, constructivist, student-centered, self-directed, project-based pedagogical activity ever was thought up by an exhausted teacher staring down the barrel of the second half of fourth quarter. It's getting harder and harder to convince these guys that they really, truly need to read these five primary source quotes and determine one underlying theme that unifies them all; having the kids tuck their jeans into their soccer socks and pretend they're wearing colonial-era britches looks pretty damn good from where I sit.
So, Jen, I am going to take you up on your more-than-generous deal to have each other's backs for the rest of the school year. I will definitely remember that, as you say of your fellow moms, "We were awesome back in October; don’t you forget that. We used to care, and that counts for something," if you remember that the same sentiment applies to me. Next year's students will get a reinvigorated, reanimated version of me in August, just as your kids' teachers will get a fresher version of you. There will be classroom management. There will be structure. There will be power standards and major assessments and enough parent-teacher communication to choke an ox. There will be color-coding of All The Things. You will be amazed and impressed by how much I care about your kids, how well I structure my lessons, and how smoothly my classroom runs......in August. Until then, we eagerly await the moment when we can unleash your offspring on you so we can go home to our own batch of house apes, where we will pour ourselves a tall glass of iced tea, clear the unfolded laundry off the couch, flop down for a well-deserved rest, and be greeted by the joyful cries of our children, saying.....