Senior Spring

The snow is gone and baseball is back at Fenway; it must be spring. This season also brings the inevitable countdown for seniors as they look ahead to that magical day where we honor their journey with a diploma. The countdown itself winds through “Senior Spring,” a season that is both wondrous and frustrating. I do not know of a school that does not struggle in one fashion or another with the palpable tension between academic and social pulls for seniors. While simultaneously following through on academic commitments, seniors are increasingly (and understandably) drawn towards spending time with classmates as a part of the ritual of saying goodbye.

Let me preface the remainder of this post with an “I” statement: I do not begrudge students from being students and turning more of their attention elsewhere. (Secretly, I am probably a bit jealous as well that they have this option.) As an educator, I have worked alongside of these students to help them develop their skills and analytic abilities. I have watched the work they put into writing a stronger data-based conclusion, performing in their senior recital, delivering their moving senior speech, and pulling together their creative senior project. Often, the work that students produce by the end of their high school careers can be at such a high level that I (momentarily) lose sight of the fact that these are still adolescents. Hopefully I am not the only educator to be guilty of this oversight!

As with everything in a school, there is a shared responsibility in making things work. My responsibility is to create a learning environment that motivates and supports student learning. My students have a responsibility to respond, try their best, and push through challenge. I find senior spring to be a tricky balancing act with the seniors I teach. I want to honor my students’ desire to connect and bring closure to their high school experience. I understand the shift in their motivation, even while I wish it was not the case. College acceptance in hand, they are busy making decisions and planning for the next stage of their education and life. It is part of the cycle of living and working in a high school.

And while all of this is happening, I want my students to honor the work they have put in to the class over the course of the year. I have watched their struggles and growth up close, and I maintain a strong investment in their continued success. I continue to want them to be captured by the intricacies of chemistry and the way it is used in explaining the world around them. Given that my students and I have been in partnership for the entire year, this seems to be the time of year when they need me to be at my best (even if I too am feeling the pull of a warmer sun and rapidly greening grass). If I have been doing my job throughout the year, the work in front of us now is part of a longer narrative on chemistry. The main characters (in our case equilibrium and energy) are well known to us as a class. My job is to bring the story to a close and leave them longing to pick up the sequel and explore further.

Earlier in my career, I saw this as the time of year when I needed to make class “more fun” and give them more opportunities to “do chemistry.” Because I learn best by doing and collecting data, it became clear that what was actually critical was that my course was infused with those characteristics throughout the year. Over time, I revised, experimented, and revised further (and continue to do so) such that my class ran like that from start to finish. The result: senior spring became less of an issue inside of my classroom. It has never gone away completely, but its weight is less present in the room. We keep on with the business of learning throughout the spring because we are engaged in a learning partnership, one where we a place collective value on “doing” and mastery of practices. And with that closing thought, I’m going to sign off from writing. The sun is out, games are being played outside my window, and I want to work on my tan…

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