First day of June and perseverance

photo courtesy of PBS.org
photo courtesy of PBS.org

Today is the first day of June. It’s a new month, a new season, and it’s full of possibilities. Summer vacation begins Friday for my students. They are so excited, I can hardly keep a lid on them; four of them have already left early for their summer vacation, and the rest are busy learning and working. I aim to keep it that way through Wednesday afternoon, mainly for my own sanity and mental well-being. Thursday, then Friday will be here before I know it and I’ll be signing yearbooks and asking my students what they plan to do with their 79 days of summer vacation.

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.” Winston Churchill

It’s a new month, a new season, and it’s full of possibilities. Nevertheless, before I begin to think about what summer will be like, I need to go back and think about the year. The year was a challenge – full of triumphs and pitfalls in and out of the classroom. In the classroom, I had a new ELA curricula, based on the Common Core standards. I cringe when I say Common Core because it is sort of vilified these days. Folks in and out of education have turned Common Core into education’s current piñata – people just love beating on it. Unfortunately, it has not yet yielded any candy. It will be several years before educators know for sure if it is effective. But, I can tell you with absolute certainty there is a difference between my student’s learning from last year and my current students. This year’s students have developed into readers with a purpose, deeper thinkers, and stronger writers who can support their ideas with evidence from the text and their learning. However, they did not start that way. It was rough at the beginning of the year, but they have adapted and grown academically. They’ve also grown as people, too. They are ready for the next step, eighth grade.

Lately, it seems, everywhere I look I see perseverance. I see adversity. That is the upside and downside of teaching, it heightens my awareness and forces me to think about what I am teaching. I remember the old adage, “Those who do, do. Those who can’t, teach.” It could not be further from the truth. Because I can do, I once did. I just decided that I had the patience, passion, and purpose to be a teacher. I have my days, some days I am a better teacher than other days. In my previous life there were days when what I did was not perfect, or even close. I stuck it out, I worked hard, and I adjusted and moved forward. I remember what it was like stumbling through middle school and it was not easy. It is not easy for today’s kids either. The most important part of teaching is helping students discover their own passion and purpose while teaching them the skills (and content) they need to be successful. Thinking (and reasoning) is one of them. I am thinking all the time. Thinking of ways, I can make their learning more relevant. Thinking of resources, I can use to help them understand concepts and ideas.

We are finishing the year with the unit “The Road to Perseverance.” The year is divided into four units and each focuses on a theme. The units are:

  • Unit 1: “Community vs. The Individual” which is more important?
  • Unit 2: “The Weight of Acceptance” about acceptance and rejection
  • Unit 3: “The Mask I Wear” about identity and purpose
  • Unit 4: “The Road to Perseverance” about persevering through adversity

All of our units have multiple texts – books, articles, songs, poems, plays to support the theme. To begin our final unit, we read Winston Churchill’s speech commencement speech at Harrow in 1941.

Words of Wisdom: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.” Winston Churchill

It made Time Magazine’s top ten list of commencement speeches. When we read it, a few kids were lost. They didn’t know the context of the speech, they didn’t understand the period, but we had taught them the skills figure it out and to read and re-read the speech. I coached a few kids through forcing them to read, re-read, and think. Monday in class, we will re-read the speech again, for a third time. I know there are a few who will struggle with the re-reading and understanding. Those are the students who began the year behind, but they are catching up.

I am always thinking. Last Sunday, I sat down on the couch with my coffee and flipped on the television. I rarely do that, losing myself in the blog or reading blogs. But, I turned on ESPN to see Saturday night’s scores. I wanted to know who won and who lost, I wanted know the final score of a women’s softball game – Oregon vs Minnesota. Instead, I discovered ESPN’s show SC Featured – Sport Center’s featured stories a sports news magazine in video form.

I sat, watched, and learned. There were three stories broadcast last Sunday morning, but I only remember one, “Losing to Win.” It is the story of Carroll Academy’s women’s basketball program. Carroll Academy is an alternative high school in Tennessee. The team have lost over 200 straight basketball games. The time the team had won a game was in 2005. I wanted to know more. What I learned, stuck with me.

My school is in affluent suburb of Chicagoland. Most of my students live in very nice homes and have access to opportunities that many kids their age do not. The same could be said for many kids across America. Nevertheless, there are kids in my school that struggle. They don’t have the same opportunity, they don’t have the same background, or the same influences at home. Carroll Academy is a last chance for kids who have even less opportunity than my struggling students. Here is the video; it’s 14 minutes long and worth every minute, every second.

The New York Times wrote a series about Carroll Academy’s basketball program in April 2012 and ESPN aired their feature in July 2013. I was late to the game, so to speak.

Last Tuesday, we watched “Losing to Win” to win in class and discussed its relevance to their learning, and their experience. While we watched, I noticed a few students who sniggered at the girl’s game scores, or the girls’ basketball skills, but they got it.

Words of Wisdom: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.” Winston Churchill

That is why I teach. I am glad there are many more teachers like me who work with kids and help them learn, discover their passion and purpose, and help them overcome overwhelming adversity. This week my students will share their final projects about what we can learn from stories about perseverance over time. I am looking forward to it.

It’s a new month, a new season, and it’s full of possibilities. The month will be over before I know it; today day will be, too – if I do not get a move on. It’s time to jump up, jump in, and seize the day. Making the Days Count, one day at a time, one opportunity, one story.

What helps you make it through a tough time? A song, a story, a poem, or a real life example?

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5 thoughts on “First day of June and perseverance

    1. thanks… the last week of school is always a tough time for many… the structure is gone and that is hard for some kids to deal with (and some adults)….possibility is waht drives us to be who we are, it defines us.. have a wonderful week..

    1. Thank you. I remember my 7th grade ELA teacher, she was a gem and gave me the encouragement I needed, when I needed it most. I will never forget her kind words. I reconnected with her a few years ago and we are friends on Facebook. for many students, middle school is a blur and a time easily forgotten. I never give in and strive to make every day count. I hope you have a wonderful week!

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