Thursday, May 29, 2014

For Those Who Are Leaving (...And the Ones Left Behind)

To Those Who Are Leaving:

As each school year draws to a close, teachers, students, and parents inevitably begin to reflect on all that has transpired and what the future may bring. I personally find this time bittersweet; some students whom I've known for 3 or 4 years (or longer!) will be leaving, most never to return. A few will undoubtedly come to visit in the next few years, but the relationship will have morphed. It will no longer be a didactic and dialectic conversation, the immediate give and take of brain cells firing in the here and now, but one of nostalgia, of ossified memories and what-ifs.

The sweet part, of course, is watching your seedlings flourish into autonomous agents in the world. I love having the conversations 1, 2, 3 years out, when my former students expound on their newfound passions, relationships, and experiences. They come into their own and usually become the people I knew they could become.

That said, I don't think I could summarize all the advice I have for outgoing seniors. And to be honest, the most important things in life must be experienced to be understood. Only a few are able to neatly bundle up their words and deliver them in a neat package: I suggest you read (or find Youtube clips) of these thought provoking commencement addresses. These are the ideas that should not be saved for an annual ritual, but should be reflected upon regularly.

So, departing students, let me close with some clichés. YOLO and Carpe Diem. This does NOT mean do stupid things to shorten your lifespan; in fact, this is an exhortation to be as Epictetus and not sweat the small stuff while taking control of your own actions. This is an exhortation to live with authenticity as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche would recommend. Do NOT let life pass you by, or you will pass by life. Take the bull by the horns and run.

To Those Left Behind:

We aren't done yet! Get back to work!

Do you wish you could leave? Do you hate coming to school? Have you packed up the cupboards of your mind and your synapses are singing sayonara? Well, my love may be unconditional, but it doesn't mean it isn't taxing for me to put up with you giving up.

Giving up and checking out are cop-outs. It is a way to flee responsibility and hide from that which is difficult. There is no pause button on life; you cannot flee the inevitability of moving out, finding a job, being a citizen of the world. Those things will happen to you whether you want them to or not. So don't flee it. Embrace it.

The more you know, the more power you have. The more power you have, the more you can affect change. If you don't like how school or society works, you have to change it. No one else can because they aren't you and haven't felt it in your exact way. You are the one affected, so you must be the agent of change.

But before I go off into too many platitudes, let's bring it back to the here and now. Why should you finish that homework assigned last night? Why should you do that assignment in class? Here's a secret: it isn't for you to learn that tidbit of information.

The real reason we teachers want you to do work (from the mundane to the transformative) is to empower you to empower yourself. If you can "suffer through it" then you can "rise above it." Life is about outlook. If your approach to adversity is defeat, anger, pity or apathy, then you will be defeated, angry, pitiful, and apathetic your whole life. But if you can do the unsavory tasks (whether homework, scrubbing dishes, or reading through this whole diatribe) without those negative qualities, you may realize that you can handle anything thrown at you, and that makes you powerful. And, because it bears repeating, power gives you the leverage to change the world. You can change those boring, miserable, and unsavory tasks. You can rise above them.

So yes, I know it's nice outside and you want to go to the beach. I know it's so much easier to put in your earbuds and tune out the world. I know it's convenient to write that note to get out early, or come in late. And believe me, we teachers feel that same siren's call sometimes. But together we must power through it. It may be the end of the school year, but that is an arbitrary construct. There will always be something else around the corner. So we should heed Larry's advice.

Let's git r done.