When a Student Gets It
As if often the case this time of year, I have fallen behind on my blog. The reason for this is because of the beginning of the school year, which has been especially busy for me this year. Classes are larger, staff is smaller, responsibilities are spread amongst fewer teachers, and I have stepped forward to be my district union president. Before I knew it, the first quarter had ended, but I had not yet managed to get back to the blog until now.
Spending so much of my time thinking about the stress of teaching got me reflecting on the rewards of the job. Sure, the frustrations are legion, and I have certainly expressed those in this space before. I don’t want to do that today, though. I want to share with you an assignment that made me extremely proud to do what I do. In the high school philosophy class, the students’ final exam is to watch Randy Pausch’s powerful “Last Lecture” and then go off and create their own version of the lecture as high school juniors and seniors. It is, by design, an extremely unstructured assignment. Some students are intimidated by the lack of structure, and find themselves at a loose end trying to figure out exactly what it is they want to say, and how it is they want to say it. Others find this challenge exciting, and relish the opportunity to create a project that is truly their own–which is the whole reason I leave the assignment so unstructured. Mind you, not every assignment calls for a lack of structure, but I believe strongly that this one does.
I am not certain if Morgan, the student who produced the video below, was intimidated or excited, or perhaps a little of both. All I know is that I was totally moved by what she produced, and the thought of the work she did has gotten me through some very trying days in the classroom. When a student does work like this, I am reminded why it is that I do my job, and why I still want to keep showing up every day, in spite of the stress and irritation it presents. Check it out–I think you’ll enjoy it:
In his lecture, Pausch discusses the notion of the “head fake”–the idea that we learn something best when we think we are learning something else (recall Daniel-San learning to “wax on, wax off” in the “Karate Kid”). Morgan cleverly includes her own head fake when she mentions at the end that her video wasn’t really for my assignment–it was for her kid brother. And if you are concerned, Morgan has given me permission to show this video here. She is now a college freshman at Ithaca college, no doubt impressing her TAs and professors up there.