So you might have noticed that I have struggled mightily to get back into blogging. Heck, in April I was pumping out several thousand words every other day. What happened? Well, it seemed like all of a sudden I was being pulled in a bunch of directions. Squirrel hunting became a daily activity, soccer season started in earnest, and prep for the AP Econ test took more and more of my afternoons. However, those are all poor excuses. Frankly, I just wasn’t used to writing so much. When I was doing it every day, the words flowed. When I missed a few days, it became all too easy to find something else to do.
Well, summer is here. My intent is to write a lot – find a rhythm and keep it going. We’ll see how I do.
So where to start… I have a stockpile of half written blogs at this point, including the story of my arch-nemesis, Mr. Squirrel. But I think that I should start with a brief recap of the school year. Why? Because it’s my dream job and I finally have a few free moments to reflect on year four of the adventure.
This year was by far my most difficult of my career. Most of that was due to teaching Advanced Placement Economics for the first time, which nearly killed me (literally) on several occasions. Of course, I had never taught regular econ before, let alone AP Econ. Top that off with the fact that I was laid off too long to be able to get the AP training, and the class truly was a baptism by fire.
Additionally, I was teaching a few sections of World History (which I’ve taught before) in the new Arts Academy (key word: new!). Those of you who know me know that my artistic talent is basically limited to accidentally inappropriate stick figures and drawings of men that appear to be busty women. How the heck was I going to relate to kids who happen to be incredibly talented artists?
What happened? Amazing things! The AP students were an incredible group of kids. Intelligent, demanding, driven to succeed – I felt like I was teaching the next generation of great leaders. Oh, there were definitely down times. The Theory of the Firm unit was a turning point. The kids performed terribly on the test (though not as terribly as first thought, due to a mistake in the computerized grading scale), and I felt like we were on the cusp of a revolt. Some former students visited me and said, “do you know what they’re saying about you on Twitter?” No, I didn’t know, but thanks! But I did know that I wanted my students to feel successful in my classroom. I took that test on me and told them that I blamed myself for their lack of success. I told them I was upping my game, and I expected them to up theirs too. The rest of the semester was much more successful, and the rate of my hair falling out slowed dramatically.
The Arts Academy kids proved to be wonderful, despite my misgivings. True, they wasted at least 52 packs of whiteboard markers drawing artistic interpretations of my face on the board each day, but who cares? For freshman, my goal is to make my students feel safe – these are basically middle schoolers suddenly thrown into a high school campus with 6,600 kids. Its scary – I know this because I walk the paths between the schools sometimes! I wanted to create an environment where they could thrive, and I truly hope I did.
Before I end this, I want to share a few thoughts from my students. It was extremely rewarding to receive so many notes of gratitude at the end of the year, because they are from the kids I have given my life over to serving. For me, its ALL about them, and what they say matters the most to me. Please note that I am not doing this to toot my own horn. I’m going somewhere with this – hopefully it will make sense by the end. Here we go:
“The only thing I’ll miss involving school is world history – the only class I tried hard for because I wanted to and not because I had to. Here’s to Mr. Southwick, the raddest teacher around!” (Rad – perfect word for me 😉
“This was such a great class. I feel as if this is the class where I actually learned – sure I learned theorems and dates in other classes. But in your class, I was taught what counts – how to live your life to the fullest. Thank you!”
“You enlighten people AND encourage them – and I think that’s incredible!”
“I just wanted to take a second to say thank you so much for this year. I cannot put into words the affect your class has had on me. I have learned so much about economics and life. Listening to your stories and your life decisions has really made me think about my own life many times. You are truly blessed with the gift of teaching and will have a large impact on all the students you come in contact with whether they express it or not.”
“I wanted to let you know that you are one of the most outstanding people I’ve ever met in my entire life, and I am so glad you were my history teacher my entire freshman year. Thank you for all the advice you’ve given, and for everything you’ve taught me. You’ve made a difference in my life 🙂 “
“We love you, $dawg!” (apparently this is the name they use to refer to me on twitter)
The fact that teenagers took the time to write me these words is incredible. Now, its true that by next week, they will probably be trying to avoid me in public (as several already have this week – sheesh, the school year just ended!). And I also know that there were plenty of students bashing me earlier in the year during the toughest Econ unit. But in the moment, when the year was coming to a close, they expressed to me the EXACT things I want my classroom to be for them.
When I switched careers, I decided to follow my passion. Not everyone gets a chance to do that in life. I had a few breaks go my way, and lucked out in getting to where I am… but the vision that I had remained the same throughout. And while I have always hoped that my classroom follows that vision, these notes confirm that (at least to a few students) I am on the right track. And you know what? Its deeply moving to me to read these words. I love what I do. LOVE.
So let me put this out there. Don’t spend a passionless life going through the motions. Find something that makes you come alive, and do it with all your might. Please?!?! Move some mountains to make it happen. Go through the valleys. Live with the risks. These are the things that make life worth living.
Of course, reality sometimes comes back to bite you. The teaching profession is rapidly changing. There are several charter high schools opening in our district in the coming years (not to mention the push for online schooling), which probably means I will be looking for a job elsewhere. But you know what? Even if I end up moving across the country, or (gulp) out of teaching for a time, I will still cling to these words written by my students. And I will know that for a few brief moments, I made difference. That makes all the difference for me.