4:35pm. Last day of the 3rd quarter. Very quiet school building in all directions all around me. About to walk out the door for Spring Break.
That is, until...
...one of my 10th grade kids walked into my little office (note: in lieu of a real classroom, I have a desk in the math dept storage room) with a worn copy of a poem in hand. I look at the clock. It reads something past 3pm. I look at him. I look at his poem. I realize he's serious. (I smile)
A poem? To do more work? On the last Friday afternoon before Spring Break? When he could be outside playing ball? Was he mad? Better yet: was I?
One of my 10th grade students walks slowly my way. Wearing his varsity baseball uniform with a game only 30 minutes away. He's actually biting his lip. Says, "Can I start now?" I nod in the affirmative.
And so he begins his last 2 or 3 attempts at the quarter-long "Ozymandias" poem memorization project (I wrote about not too long ago) that stops being valid at the end of today when the quarter ends. As in no-more-chances, becomes-a-zero end of today. Nothing like waiting 9 weeks to prove the power of 10th grade procrastination. Dem wacky kids. Wonders never cease.
The challenge for my kids starts like this:
"I met a traveler from an antique land / Who said..." - Percy Shelley, "Ozymandias"
In a sentence, here's what they gotta do:
'Recite' the poem on paper perfectly, word for word, comma for comma, perfect, no mistakes, no excuses, none, done, fininto.
9 weeks to try. Try as many times as needed.
But when its over, its either an A+/100 or an F/0. No other options. And it counts as much as a major essay. No apologies.
As I said in the previous post, another teacher I ran into at a conference this winter said,'
"No way you'll get all your kids to do this. Just not possible. Not all kids can memorize. At least I couldn't."
I forgave her her lack of optimism, her reluctance to be audacious, her lack of willingness to realize that kids will do anything for a teacher who truly believes in them and makes it non-negotiable based on a belief in their abilities,...all because she pointed to the elephant in the corner of the room.
If we don't think we can, then how can our kids?
But the crazy thing is that when this student walked into my 'office' today, he was the last one to get this done. The very last one. My assumption of perfection was on the line, as I told him (a little extra pressure I knew he could handle!).
Every one of my students -- from ESL kids to Ivy-League-bound kids -- pulled it off successfully. Every. One. Of. Them! Period.
This was on my mind a lot today since I had been surprised by an invitation from Oregon Public Radio to be on-air today during a show called "Think Out Loud" that was focusing on the act of 'memorization' in the learning process. Somehow -- Google? -- one of their producers discovered that post I wrote about this poem memorization project and called me. All the way from Oregon. Want to be on our show in Oregon? Sure. Happy to join in.
While I was flattered to be asked to be on the show today and share a bit about my students and the work they did this quarter, I was even more impressed by the other students on the show who were performing in the national Poetry Out Loud competition. My lil'ol' project had nothing on what these kids were doing. Not. A. Thing.
As I said, eventually my baseball playing 10th grader with a bit of the procrastination blues on the verge of Spring Break, managed to pull off the memorization project after 5 tries this afternoon alone. With him, 100% of my students -- the entire 10th grade -- proved that earlier teacher's assumption wrong. Quite wrong. We got 100%. No problemo!
So, I walked out the door today to kick start vacation.
A brilliant spring day in the 80's. Sun. Blue sky. Spring Break officially under way. A gradebook full of A+/100 point scores for a major assignment for all of my kids. All of them. And an appreciation that someone I've never met stumbled upon my blog and asked me to be on Oregon Public Radio to talk about "memorization" of all things.
Funny. If there is anything I thought I'd ever be asked to talk about on the radio, memorization is the furthest possibility in the education spectrum.
But then again, wonders never cease when it comes to the teaching life.