Paper Chains and Nail Polish

Paper Chain CountdownI have fourteen days left of a 25 year career. My feelings grow more and more mixed as the final day draws nearer. On one level, I’m so ready, looking forward to doing whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it, to not wake up at 4:45 every morning and hop in the car by 6:00 to drive 55 miles. I’m looking forward to no grading papers, no lesson planning, no getting up in front of a herd of eighth graders and having to grab and hold their attention for two hours. Oh, and maybe even teaching them something they don’t already know, although they’re pretty sure that I don’t know anything that they don’t already know.

Most students seem to believe that everything I provide for them to do is just something to write their name on and hand in, assuming they will get full credit for whatever it is, finished or not, never mind the quality of thought or effort they put forth. They can’t seem to let go of the idea that as long as they hand something in they should be fine. Today I received seven identical reflection papers, all done very poorly. They didn’t even choose a competent student to copy from!

In the last two days three students who have played around all quarter and handed in little work, none of it done with any level of care, approached me to say that they needed an “A” in my class if they are to promote. Even today they had to interrupt their fun to come and ask for that “A.” One girl had to finish polishing her nails before she could come and request her “A.”  I told them that just wasn’t possible because they hadn’t chosen that outcome for themselves, either with their behavior as students, the quality of work they did turn in, or the limited quantity of work they bothered to do.

On one hand I felt like somehow making the A possible, by giving them extra make-up work or having them redo some poorly done assignments. I like the girls, and don’t want to see them fail. I’m leaving after all, why not give a gift? But on the other hand, and this is the one that is going to prevail, I feel that for me to ignore their level of effort and their behavior and just give them the grade they want is to devalue the same grade that has been honestly earned by other students. It would not be fair to any of them, actually. They will be going to high school in the fall and this type of grade gifting won’t happen there.

Our students have access to their Aeries portals, so they check their grades a few times a day at this time of year. If their grade slips even a fraction they are on me like flies on something nasty. “I handed that in and it says it’s missing,” they say accusingly. To which I respond in a really calm voice, “Oh really? Well just show it to me and I’ll make sure you get your points.” They quietly slink, away and start frantically digging through their backpacks.  Sometimes they even find the missing work.  Anyway, I won’t miss all this.

But I will miss their goofy antics, their earnest effort once in a while, their wanting to know about high school and other things in their future. I’ll miss laughing with them, holding them close when they cry, earnestly telling them what they need to know before they get to high school. I’ll miss them helping me choose a fidget spinner to buy for a friend my age who wanted one and their genuine enjoyment of the video I made of him receiving it. It’s been a good year, all in all. No big behavior issues, and overall a happy bunch of kids. Lucky me!

A couple of weeks ago some students made paper chains to hang from the curtain rod, one link for every day left of school. Every few links they wrote something nice, like “You can do more than you think you can,” or “Make today count!” So when we remove links from the chains we read the sentiments out loud. Everyone listens carefully, and it’s a nice way to start the day. Except, as you can see, there are way more than 12 links left on those chains, so clearly life has gotten in the way of the chains. We’ll catch up tomorrow. At this point, we still have tomorrows. Twelve of them.



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