Today, a student resentfully announced in class that there was no grade in the gradebook for an essay he wrote. A month ago.
I couldn’t argue. It has been sitting in the “Speedgrader” of my digital classroom for several weeks. Last week, I was really going to focus on getting those finished. The essays are personal narratives about family histories, nothing I can really just skim-and-grade (which I rarely force myself to do anyhow). I really want to read them. But the moments when I can focus like that on getting to know students… I have to create them in my hectic days. Clearly I haven’t managed well when it comes to those essays.
But what would I have given up last week and weekend if I had graded essays?
I would have missed out on Arizona’s first Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers conference, for one. The 1 ½ day conference focused on helping teacher leaders identify an area of passion, come up with a concrete goal, and craft a message, refining it for various audiences. An elevator speech, if you will. The educational community (at least, the segments not dominated by political ideology and corporate interests) agrees that teachers MUST join the conversation on policy, and yet most of us need this critical kind of training to even begin to imagine ourselves breaching those visible and invisible barriers keeping us inside our classroom walls. The conference was full of validating stories and powerful messages about individual teachers becoming leaders and shaping their schools, districts and communities. How often do I get an opportunity like that? This is the first one I’ve had.
If I had been grading essays, I would also have missed out on preparing for and enjoying a visit from the Honorable Juan Mendez, from the Arizona House of Representatives, who graciously accepted my invitation to be Taken to School. Take Your Legislator to School Week is this week, and I felt lucky to have someone who was willing to spend the entire day with me. More details than I anticipated filled my time as I prepared: last-minute touches to the classroom; making sure ALL lesson materials and preparation were done– no last minute copies or typing up bellwork! (Ignore that. I never do that.); inviting key folks on campus to photograph, videotape, interview, meet-and-greet, tour; designing prompts which would allow him to observe some of the less obvious aspects of what makes a classroom work. The visit was, I thought, a wonderful beginning to what hopefully becomes an ongoing dialogue, and Mr. Mendez was a more willing subject than I had thought, engaging the students, reading Art Spiegelman’s Maus, helping distribute materials, and being a good sport about having lunch in the cafeteria. Whew! No essays got graded those days, either. However, one more state legislator has spent a day at school before developing and voting on policy. And who can argue with that?
So, I must apologize to my sophomores. The past couple of weeks, when it comes to grading your essays, I have put my own growth above yours. I can’t say it doesn’t eat at me, but I can promise you that I will use what I have learned to try to make school the type of place where everyone has the time and resources to accomplish what they need to do to continue to learn, grow, achieve and lead.