Seniors walk through my door in August knowing that they have chosen a difficult class and a substantial amount of work for themselves. As a subject area, students view English with many preconceived notions, and part of my job is to help them see the connections between my content and their lives. Language, communication, metaphors, and many other literary devises surround us in this world. In our hands we hold screens that allow each of us to publish and consume both spoken and written words. We need to know advertising and persuasion ploys so that we don’t get too caught up in the next-best-purchase. Analysis and applying a lens to a subject emerge as vital skills for my students because these abilities allow thinking adults to approach a subject or a problem with an open mind and contemplate the meaning from different points of view. When my students can perform these literary and analysis tasks, our community becomes a smarter and more compassionate place.
Still, when they enter my room in August, my seniors are not yet truly seniors. Honestly, they aren’t really more than juniors with a tan. In the beginning they still want to get the “right” answer, and I watch as they hesitate to explore ideas with confidence because they still want to be assured of accuracy. Most of the new seniors won’t take risks with their ideas as we move into the difficult readings and new analysis concepts. Once students realize how to trust their own voice as they lay out the plausibility of their argument and thesis, many thoughts open to them. They might still have to fight down the senioritis monster, but they can form and craft ideas, not just sit and wait for a theory to magically pop into their minds.
Not only do I see growth with academic work, but I also watch their behavior change through the year. Being the oldest kids in the building isn’t a guarantee that my students will make the best choices or be the most mature. As we move through the senior year, I still see improper behavior in class at times. Oh, the stories I could tell!
Thinking back on your own life, you can certainly see the moments when you had to move from one level of maturity to the next. Senior year is one of those times. Suddenly, the students must make decisions about college applications, scholarships, and future career choices. They are expected to be the leaders in their extra-curricular events, and most of them are also working jobs in the world. To step into their place as seniors, the immaturity of past years must change.
I see many signs when my students become true seniors. They can still whine and complain about work, but they do it. And, they do it well. They can stay more focused in class without horseplay or distracting others, and they prepare for class. They wear sweatpants and go without makeup because they have learned a self-confidence, allowing them to not be so concerned about what other people think. They aren’t trying to impress anyone or match anyone else’s standards. They walk away from drama, or for the ones who still struggle with it, at the very least, they finally hear a little voice in their heads warning them that they are stirring up the drama. They say thank you and mean it. They appreciate all the work that goes into raising them and teaching them.
The future will bring many more growing-up moments for my seniors. Once they enter college, the first couple of years will be full of change, but also fun. When they finally get to the level of digging in to their major field of study coursework, they will have to step up to a new level of understanding and maturity. Students going into the military or the workforce also will have a bit of a honeymoon period where they will be guided on how to behave and new expectations for responsibilities. Then, they will begin their jobs in earnest. They will be making decisions based on data and working toward goals in their organizations. The same big leaps of maturity will happen if they marry, become parents, step into supervisory roles, and begin developing ideas instead of just learning them.
My students in August have miles to go before they are ready. But, here we are in May. At this point in the year, they have taken their place as the oldest, the leaders, the responsible ones, the seniors. Through this journey, one word emerged as my go-to for summarizing all that growing. Our word applies to writing, making choices, behavior, setting goals, and life. I hope that when my seniors come to each new step, they will hear my voice and remember the word. I know they have the ability.
From the moment they first walked into class, I’ve watched them elevate through decisions, disappointments, difficult work, immaturity, and a pandemic. I am so proud of them, and I give my gift of words to the Class of 2020.
A Poem Dedicated to the Class of 2020