It is Sunday morning and it is very quiet, except for the sounds of nature – birds calling, squirrels chirping, the rustle of leaves, and Ivy chewing a stick on the deck. I am sitting on the deck at the table enjoying a beautiful morning. Ivy convinced me to come outside by looking at me with those big brown eyes seemingly as if to say, ‘why aren’t you coming outside, it’s great!’ So, I did. I don’t have an internet connection – I’ll need to work on that, but another day. Summer is almost here. A week ago, I was driving 75 mph and closing on Indianapolis. It was a fun day and exhausting much like the past week.
This is the bittersweet part of the school year. It is busy with end of the year tasks such as packing, cleaning, and recycling. Often, I ask – how did I get this? Why did I save this? And all too often, I ask, what was I thinking? The really sad part is that I frequently do not save the really good stuff or it is in places where it I will never find it, at least when I need it. I am an organizational mess, a nightmare, but, whatever you call it, I need help. It is also the time of the year when I (a teacher that is) realize how far each student has come since August. I see him or her every day and I do not notice the subtle development, which takes place or how the maturation process shapes each student. Last week was the final academic week and grades were, for the most part, finalized. Students keep a portfolio of all his or hers work and I hold on to it until the end of the year. They look at it and get to take it home. Often as they open it, there is the gasp of horror and the utterance – ‘I wrote this?’ or ‘WOW, I remember this.’
Each year I ask students to write a letter to their 8th grade teacher and for extra credit a letter to an incoming 7th grade student. The format of the letter is for the students to tell a little bit about themselves, their plans for summer, share what they learned, what they remembered, how they learn best, and close with sharing the excitement of becoming an 8th grader – the top dog in the middle school hierarchy. I have saved every one of these letters since I began the practice in my third year of teaching – those kids will be seniors in college next year! WOW. The best part is reading them and I read every one. For the most part the letters tend to blend, but there is the rare gem where the student writes something insightful where they reflect on the learning and how much they truly have learned. The letters to the incoming 7th grade student are the best where students share the experience of being in class with warnings and tips such as ‘when it says blue or black in or typed, that what it means don’t even try pencil.’ Or, ‘if you ask for help, you’ll get it – more than you expected.’ Finally, ‘he gets off topic a lot, but it is a good thing because it is always connected to what we were learning or talking about in class.’ These are the best gifts.
Two days, that is all that is left. That is all I get or rather we get. Monday morning is a whirlwind morning of all three classes (two are blocks or double classes) and an afternoon of locker cleanout, team awards and recognitions for positive choices, yearbook hand out and signing. Tuesday, is a short day with yearbook signing by class, team, and grade level. Students will ask me to write in their yearbooks. A few years back, I began the tradition of encouraging them to make their days count – use all of them to their fullest. This year the students have seventy-four and I have seventy. The inscription will look like:
I enjoyed having you in class, you always asked good questions – thank you! Enjoy your summer, all 74 days of it – make them count and worthwhile. Be ready for 8th grade, it comes fast. Stop in and say hello next year and beyond.
Mr. Watkins Geo and LA 2010-11
That tradition has morphed into more than just yearbook inscribing. Seventy days or seventy-four days will be gone before we know it.
The bell will ring and students will burst through the door hooting and hollering because that is, simply what they do. They’ll ride the bus, the car, or walk home and it will take a couple of days to set in, but they will be looking forward to school in the fall. I too, will secretly be yearning for a regular schedule by the end of June. Beth will be ready for school to go back in session with three of us at home before then!
But, it is Sunday morning and I have a full day ahead of me. There is much to do – as there always is. A lacrosse game, grass to mow, weeds to pull, bills to pay, chores to complete, and other jobs that make life interesting and exasperating all at the same time. I hope that I will get to the pool with the kids, but if not today, another. There is always stuff on the list that is carried over to another day, another weekend, another time, or until it is truly important. Making the Days Count, one day at a time.