Higher Ground

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Each new year, my high school staggers student orientation by grade in descending order. Today, seniors and juniors return from summer break to obtain class schedules, lockers, and miscellaneous instructions about the year ahead. We have adopted a new, rotating, semi-block system this year, and everyone is both confused and excited. Change can be a wonderful thing.

Teachers have been at work since the 11th. Professional development interspersed with bonding and classroom time has been the rule. I actually like the two-week window we are afforded before the rush begins. Classes officially start next Tuesday, but, in truth, the new year is already underway.

I study the earnest faces of the new teachers—all young, nervous, and eager—and I think back on my first years of teaching. I am now entering my eleventh year, and my first students are in their mid-twenties now. I wonder if they wish me well as much as I do them.

Today, students assemble in the auditorium. Before their half-day begins, I make it my purpose to greet each one by name. I studied the yearbook last week; some names I had forgotten–but never the spirit, never the countenance.

They have grown inches and miles. They have made promises to themselves as the new adventure approaches. Eight weeks away does wonders for the soul. We hug and slap five. We resuscitate old jokes until the new ones come. I taught most of the seniors only two years ago, and all the juniors just last year. Still, everyone looks older, better, stronger. I want so much for them.

I shaved my beard off, and nearly everyone has some comment to make. “You look different,” one girl whispers.

“So do you,” I say.

As I move from chair to chair. I do my best to let them know I missed them too. I smile and inform the seniors I will be teaching them this year. One young man raises a fist and says, “Yes!” I know school does not come easily for him, and I take his gesture as a sign of good things to come.

I still need to finish planning the day-to-day for the first semester, especially with the new schedule, but I already know what I want to do. I am teaching World Literature, and I want to use that platform to press their ownership of this world and all its humanity. “You are more than you imagined” is my theme for the year.

I can’t wait.

–Mark E.P. Roberts (teachermandc)

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About Mark E.P. Roberts

teachermandc is Mark E.P. Roberts, a middle-aged, high school English teacher entering his ninth year of instructing young minds. This blog is an attempt to capture the challenge of teaching and the essence of learning. At a time when DC has become the epicenter of educational theory, this blog will keep its preferred focus on students in an somewhat typical DC high school. I have taught in both public and private schools. To date, 95% of my students are of color. All names have been changed, and complaints about in-house politics will be avoided. Hope you enjoy.
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