‘Tis the Season–of Abdominal Pain?

If April showers bring May flowers, and 19574Mayflowers bring pilgrims, what does June bring? Apparently, abdominal pain.

I’ve had some internal discomfort for a while, and since I practically have a medical degree because I can Google my symptoms, I self-diagnosed it as being gall bladder-related. My doctor-sister, Wendy, thinks I’m Hysterical–but not in that ha-ha-you’re-so-funny kind of way; she means my flair for the dramatic. When I told her that I could need surgery, might drop 10-15 pounds, and could pick up lots of attention (Can you guess my birth order?), Wendy suggested that it might also be stress. She started me on ranitidine and has me meeting with a gastroenterologist next week.

That’s because with two sisters in education, Wendy gets June.

It’s a rough month that is only compounded by the internal conflict we teachers face. There’s the Inner Voice that screams that we deserve to do some Teaching Lite for the last few weeks of the year after practically winning Teacher of the Year for the first nine months. But there is that much smaller voice that asks why our work ethic in June should look any different than our work ethic in, say, October.

Which explains the myriad of work that is pouring in this month for all of us.

Education World gets June, too, as they recently featured a timely piece entitled “From Chaos to Coherence: Managing Stress While Teaching.” Among the suggestions was to create a list of favorite activities and then commit to doing one a day to manage our stress. Mine is reading in the sunshine. As an English teacher, though, I can’t justify diving into a good book at home when I have over 500 pages of research papers (from just two classes) that I should be reading instead. (That is after the 500+ pages of research paper rough drafts  that I already graded. At 20-25 minutes a piece.)

But we adults are accustomed to stress. But are our students? Our learners–who are the very reason we do what we do–are absolutely overwhelmed.  Not all of them, of course; some have absolutely rolled over and are playing dead. However, many of them are completely damaged.

In homeroom last Friday, a formerly doe-eyed freshman asked, “Ms. Hughes, do teachers get together and say, ‘Let’s completely ruin our students’ lives during these last few weeks of school’?”

I explained that there is not, in fact, a secret, underground meeting where we teachers rub our hands together, cackle a sinister “Mwah ha haaaa!,” and then plot our students’ demise. (I’m pretty sure in her mind there were also flames–lots and lots of flames.)  She explained that all of her teachers have assigned at least one project since June began–some, two. I reasoned that projects were a great thing, as education is moving away from those scantron-type final exams (which re-assess the same standards the students have already met earlier in the year) and are moving toward project-based learning that allows students to apply what they’ve learned throughout the year. Her response? “Yeah, that’s not what my teachers are doing. These are projects that are due now, and we still have to take a scantron final.”

I had nothing.

All I know is that there has to be an easier way–an easier way to assess our students, an easier way to grade 1000+ pages of writing per month, an easier way to witness and celebrate our students’ growth. If June is for wrapping up learning, why aren’t we asking our students to reflect on September through May? If finals are meant  for students’ application of learning, why are we still asking our students to regurgitate? (And if the only answer is “to prepare our students for college,” I addressed this in  an earlier post.)

I don’t have the answers: I’m the one with abdominal pain in June. And sadly, it will most likely result in weight gain from eating my feelings than any surgery-induced weight loss. However, if we are stressed and, more importantly, if our students are stressed, then the system is broken, and no 3-letter educational acronym is going to serve as the panacea.

In the meantime, I can only control what happens in my own classroom, and so, once again, I commit to doing things differently next June.

In the meantime, could you please pass the Tums?

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