Every year, teachers count down the days until summer vacation. Heck, I had the countdown on the board from the first day of school, and a student in my class was given the task of changing the number each day. But as the number on the board gets smaller and smaller, and the stress level of making sure you’ve covered all of the required curriculum gets higher and higher, it’s time to take a deep breath and convince yourself that you’ve done the best you can to get through it. No matter how well you’ve pulled together detailed plans, printed off those Pinterest ideas, downloaded those tips from Twitter, there is no way you’ve been able to get to everything you wanted to. Those assemblies, snow days, state tests, class trips and ad-hoc conversations that the kids can always drag you into somehow keeps you from covering all you planned to cover. And when the weather suddenly breaks and you get that urge to have a kickball game during 6th period? What’s wrong with that? Nothing!
Some of my most memorable teaching moments have come when we’ve put away the books, dropped the pencils and just talked. We talked about what we had for dinner last night, what our favorite movies are, what music we like to listen to. We talked about divorce, new babies, moving out of town and leaving friends behind. We talked about current events and the SuperBowl. And from those conversations, we learned a lot about empathy.
If you look at the Common Core Standards, somehow empathy was left off the list of standards in Language Arts. Somehow someone who wrote those standards didn’t feel that learning to put yourself in other’s shoes would help you to become a better writer, or understand what a character in literature was feeling or experiencing. For that matter, it also doesn’t help someone become a better person either. Isn’t that what we are supposed to be helping our students become? More well-rounded, ready-to-take-on-the-world people?
So my advice to teachers in these last few weeks of school: Put down the expo markers, close the books, and take a walk outside to the playground to hang out and just talk. About the weather. About vacation. About family. About the kids. Let them tell you about themselves, and then tell them about you. They may not remember how to conjugate a verb, or the theme of their latest novel, but they will remember the day they told you about the time they crashed their bike, or visited the beach with friends. And they’ll remember when you told them about your experiences. And they’ll appreciate the time you spent getting to know them. That’s what I call a learning experience.