It seems several of us teachers are suffering from a post-spring break malaise; one of my colleagues today bemoaned the fact that he now feels like a "shut up machine." Kids are loud and unruly and the hallways seem to be getting worse; yesterday, we had a fire in a bathroom as if to announce the arrival of spring and nice weather. It could be a pretty long April and May.
My 4/5 period class is officially the worst of my career; I end up losing it a couple of times a week. I rarely yell, but I yell in there a couple of times a week; I rarely tell students things like "you're just not ready for high school yet", but I do in there. Failing grades don't work. Neither does detention. Lots of parental issues in that class, and phone calls home sometimes work (I often call on my cell phone during class, since I have no phone in my room), but more often do not. I think a big issue is that it's the post-lunch class, as our cafeteria situation is a rather unruly one. Still, the class gives me gray hair.
Today, though, a field trip eliminated about a quarter of the class, and the smaller class size helped a lot. They were actually a pleasure today. Tomorrow, the cackling girls and kid-who-never-ever-ever-does-any-classwork-because-he-never-brings-a-pen-or-a-notebook will be back, though, so...
Still, with the general post-break dissatisfaction, I still found a great deal of joy this week in my job.
First is the story of "Evelyn". She is a student in my first period with whom I've had some attitude problems this year, including an altercation when she told me to get out of her face. I think we're okay now, but I think she thinks I hate her. Yesterday, though, she came into the room and said, "It's April, Mr. _________. I'm going to start doing every bit of work in your class." Then she offered the perfect beat and said, "APRIL FOOL'S!". I don't know why, but it was the funniest thing I've heard in so long; her laugh and my laugh exploded together after she said that and I ended up acting like a 10-year old all day with this dumb joke. To the doofus in my second period who tried to turn in late work, I said, "Yes, I'd be happy to accept your late work (beat) APRIL FOOL'S!". To the funny girl in my 10th period, I told her what a pleasure she was to teach... April Fool's! It was so silly and fun. Only with kids I could joke with, of course, which is most of them. I do like to laugh with the kids. I had a good time with the dumbest joke in the world.
Then, today, a student (let's call her "Carol Sue," in a private joke in which I change a very African name to a very whitebread farm name) for whom I sent out about 15 letters of recommendation told me she got into St. Mary's, and she wanted showed me her acceptance letter. The letter was a standard acceptance letter, with a significant monetary award, but handwritten at the bottom from the admissions counselor was a short note in blue ink: "Carol Sue, I really enjoyed your letter of recommendation from Mr. __________________". How cool is that?
I do pride myself in writing good letters of recommendation, but I've rarely received real feedback for them. I was proud of Carol, and really happy that she showed me the note. Those couple days of my holiday break I spent writing letters of recommendation were definitely worth it.
Frankly, I don't think her letter was one of the best I've written. But here it is:
It gives me great pleasure to recommend a memorable and diligent student, Carol Sue Brown, to your learning institution. Carol Sue was a student in both my English I Honors and my IB English III courses, and I have been delighted to see Carol Sue's hard work and persistence pay off with academic success and strong skills.
In the ninth grade, Carol Sue was good-humored and hard working, turning her average grades to strong grades by the end of the year. During her junior year, however, she was a much stronger student, succeeding in a rigorous course from the beginning. The IB English course rigorously assesses both writing and oral presentations, and Carol Sue was consistently strong at both areas, providing both effective and genuinely engaging literary analysis throughout the course. I have no doubt that Carol Sue will perform well in her finals for the course, and receive an IB certificate.
It wasn't natural talent that brought Carol Sue this success. While she is talented, she struggled more than a few of her classmates. However, she is one of the hardest working students I have ever met, and I saw her grow from having average skills during her ninth grade year to having strong skills during her eleventh grade year. She still lacks confidence sometimes, but her diligence is inspiring. She is a student who does not allow others to bring her down, and instead is a symbol to others that a strong work ethic and dedication to studies can lead a student to academic success.
Besides her diligence, it is Carol Sue’s inquisitiveness that is most memorable about her. This never dampens, despite being in wildly different academic environments throughout the day. For example, Carol Sue last year took IB English 3, where she is able to receive a grade of a strong ‘B’ through her hard work. However, she also took classes in the lower tract, like World History, where she was the best student in the class. Some students would have sat back and coasted through the class that surely would be an easy ‘A,’ but not Carol Sue. She worked very hard in these courses; I remember her telling me she was the only student who did the summer reading of Things Fall Apart in her World History class. She loved the book, and was able to complete all the projects surrounding the books despite not being in an environment where other students were working hard.
However, in English class, she also succeeded in a totally different environment, working hard in a rigorous course and doing well. Carol Sue’s ideas about literature were often radical, displaying thoughtful and genuine inhabiting of the international texts we read. I am confident that Carol Sue will carry this thoughtfulness and genuineness with her to college, and I look forward to her continued academic success beyond the confines of (this) High School. I recommend her without reservation. Please contact me at (me)@gmail.com or 443-XXX-XXXX if you have any questions.
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