As my dear readers know, I have recently found out that I will be assigned to teaching English next year instead of being the Activities Director. And, one of my oldest friends, Mr. Fleck, said he hoped it wasn’t too disheartening to be retiring to the classroom. I wasn’t to assure all of my readers that it is not the return to the classroom that I find upsetting. I really love teaching English in ways that are mysterious to me. I have learned that, in reality, I am not just teaching reading and writing, but I am teaching thinking. Writing is thinking. Speaking is communicating those thoughts. I am teaching students to think about what they read and hear and to express those thoughts in creative and original ways. So, that’s pretty exciting to me. I know that the most used skills in college are reading and writing so I am psyched to be given the opportunity to give them tools they will use.
So, while people often think English is about reading and writing, I believe it is about thinking. Is that a tremendous insight? I am not sure. But, I know it’s true. Another insight I have had in the four years I have been Activities Director is that Student Activities are not just posters and pep rallies. We are doing so much more than just throwing dances. Student Activities is a complex social interaction between the student body and the institution.
Look at it this way, we all have homes. At least, I assume my readers have homes since they are reading this on the Internet. But, even these most modest and humble of lodgings usually have decorations of some kind. People want to enjoy the spaces in which they live. I have had the experience of moving into a new place and having it seem dull and lifeless. But, as soon as I get my boxes unpacked, I start putting pictures on the wall, knick knacks, tchotchkes and other miscellanea on the shelves and so on. I decorate. I put on some music or turn on the TV. And, the place feels more like home.
When I first started teaching, my classroom was pretty bare. But, then I started decorating. The more I put on the walls, the more students enjoyed it. I hung stuff from the ceilings, from every available wall space. I used streamers and balloons, even. Before long, kids that weren’t even my students would come in and remark on how much they liked the room. Kids enjoyed being in the space.
In a sense, this is what Student Activities do. The games, dances, rallies, and posters all give life to the school. It communicates to the students that they are important. I have learned that psychology is an integral part of teaching. For me, it was one of those obvious things that was too obvious at first. To teach, you must put knowledge and skills inside someone else’s head. But, the only way to do that is to understand how they think and why they think that way. You have to make the lessons relevant to them. Help them understand why they should learn it and what they will do with it. Then, put it into terms that make sense for them.
I have further learned that it helps a lot of if students like you (you have rapport with them) and if they like your room. And, I got out of my way to be entertaining. I tell jokes. I use voices when I read. I try to pick topics that are interesting and relevant to them. If you make it fun enough, they will forget they are learning. My Favorite Woman In The Whole World is awesome at this. She is always having her students play games to learn. I guarantee you that half the time the kids have no idea that they are learning in her classroom. But, they are.
Too many teachers, and administrators, forget these points. They think that all you have to do is teach, teach, teach. The delivery is not important, only the content is. Decorations? Bah! Four walls and a ceiling is all you need. Give me a whiteboard, a projector and some transparencies! I will pour knowledge into their heads and they will be happy about it.
So, the Student Activities provide the students opportunities to enjoy the school as a whole. If you think that students should just be happy about learning and grateful for the opportunity then I say you are completely missing the boat. For better or worse, students need to feel good about their teacher, about the classroom, and about the school.
Yesterday, my ASB students made a poster for me. On it, they wrote, as a group, that I had taught them to be better, to do more, and to dream bigger. They said that I had made a difference in their lives, that I had turned them into leaders, pushed them to grow, and helped them to see that they were more than they had thought they were. Even though I knew that’s what I was doing, it still shocks me to see that I actually accomplished it. It humbles me and brings tears to my eyes. Knowing that I was able to give that to them is all I ever wanted.
I made leaders. With those leaders, I made memories. Ten years from now the students of my high school will likely recall most vividly the activities that we put on. Senior Prom, Homecoming, pep rallies, lunchtime games, dances in the quad, Rachel’s Challenge, and so on. Those are certainly going to be the nostalgic memories they carry. I know I remember some of my favorite teachers and their lessons, but not many. I remember my Prom, my Grad Nite, and school pep rallies and dances, though.
This is my greatest disappointment about being removed from Student Activities. I know I was making a difference for the students. I know kids enjoyed my activities. I have no idea if my replacement will be able to do the same. I have found out who my replacement is. Based on what I know, I think my doubts are reasonable. The media love to talk about the enthusiasm of the new teacher and how fresh they are. But, those of us who have been in education know that veterans can more than make up for their “lack of freshness” with a passion to do well and knowledge of how to accomplish their goals. Maybe more importantly, as a new Activities Director, I recall very well being overwhelmed with the complexity of the job. So many different things to remember! As my predecessor told me, it’s like juggling mud. You just try to keep it together. I was overwhelmed and I had the luxury of two weeks of training by my predecessor, plus, I was able to call him all the time, and I had six years of experience putting on live theater for the school. School musicals are just about the hardest thing to pull together and most rallies were like smaller, less complex musicals. So, I knew how to do that. Student Activities had a lot more in common with my entertainment background than I would have believed at first.
I don’t really know my replacement except by name and what subject they teach. I hope that they have some kind of background that will help them hit the ground running, but I doubt it. And, for me, I won’t have time to help train them. Heck, for that matter, if the school doesn’t want me running ASB, I doubt they want me training the new Director. How can they go in a “new direction” if they have me over there filling the other person’s head with my old ideas? It’s best if I keep well away from all of that. I have worked at my school for ten years now. It is the only school I have worked in. It is like my home. I hope for the sake of the students and the community that the new Activities Director figures things out in a hurry. I have my work cut out for me getting back to the top of my game for my English students. I owe them nothing less that the absolute best of which I am capable. So, all of my efforts will need to go into that. I will turn my attention to reviewing the 11th grade curriculum. I will be re-reading the stories (I bet we haven’t adopted new textbooks, lol) and putting together plans for delivering instruction. I’ll be cracking open my books on cooperative learning and scouring the internet for ideas on integrating technology into the lessons. I’m going to teach my kids to the utmost of my ability because that’s my job and that’s what I do. I did Student Activities to the best of my ability. I will take what I have learned these last four years and use it to be an even better teacher. My new students deserve that. Because I know, it’s not just essays and short stories. English is tools for life.