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in this my 65th year of life.  Another occasion to take some time and reflect.

My focus today is on changes from my high school years until now.   Specifically, I look at what confronts our students, especially our seniors about to go off to college, and compare it with what I remember -  I graduated from high school in June of 1963.  

What I see troubles me.  

In 1963 we were still working on issues of equity -  it would be the summer after I graduated that I came to DC for the Civil Rights March.  We had hope -  ah, that's a word with recent familiarity -  that we could change things for the better.  And despite the shock of 11/22/63 and the death of our President, we were in the next few years able to achieve many of our hopes -  we got laws on Civil Rights, Voting Rights, Housing, and many other things.  We saw Medicare and Medicaid enacted into law.  We saw the doors of opportunity opening wider for many of our young people.  

We lost some of that hope as a result first of Vietnam, then of the world-wide troubles of 1968, including more assassinations in the US -  King and then Bobby Kennedy.  

And now I look at a society moving not in the direction of progress on many fronts, but rather towards ever greater economic in equality, fewer people with opportunity to change their circumstances.  

I could be depressed.  I see senior teachers in my school retiring, feeling as if they have done all they can.  

I am not there yet.

I still believe positive change is possible.  

Let me explain.

In the 1960s it was possible for one to go to a state college or university, get a degree, and graduate with no meaningful debt.  Even at elite private colleges, such as the Haverford College I entered in 1963, the expenses did not seem all that extraordinary.  If one could get to college, the opportunities greatly broadened before one.  

Now I see increasing numbers of my students, present and former, confronting the issue of costs when making post-secondary decisions.  One young man whose father had been sick and just passed will only go to our local community college because with several younger siblings he and his family cannot afford more, despite the fact that he is a very good student.  Others cram in the Advanced Placements not because they want to, but because they are trying to lessen the costs they will incur attending college, even at University of Maryland College Park, 4 miles away from our school.   They forgo the kind of college experience many of us had because of financial pressures.  

The choice of work ...  in our day we could, in part because of lack of debt choose to go into service occupations.  One might for instance go to Law School then do civil rights law.  Now if one gets to law school the burden of debt with one graduates almost forces the new lawyer to forgo such service opportunities.  I think our society is a lesser place because of that.

I do not idealize the time in which I grew up.  There was racism.  There was sexism.  Interracial couples were rare, and often harassed or worse.  Gays took real risks being open about their sexuality.  

On the other hand, in high school I had far more unstructured time than do my students today.  Often we did sports on our own, not everything in organized leagues.  In the process of the kind of play we did we developed skills that served us well later on.  Too many of my students are almost paralyzed at the possibility of operating in an environment without predetermined structures.  

This is preface.

I can look back on my life and see where I have been too narrowly focused on my immediate needs and pleasures, too driven by my own insecurities and fears.  

In some ways I have been very liberated, because we do not have the responsibility of children of our own, and we have not inherited major financial obligations on behalf of our parents.  

Realizing that, I wonder if I am comfortable with what I have done with that freedom.  I could be haunted by the "what ifs" my mind can conjure up.

I could also as I approach 65 be terrorized by the sense that time is running out.  I have lived almost 2 decade more than my mother did.    The males on my father's side had extensive longevity, and both of my mother's siblings lived well into their 80s, so that does not cause as much angst as it otherwise might do.

I do find myself reflecting back, remembering previous times of my life.  I read about an old acquaintance and my mind fills with ancient conversations, or perhaps something of a shared experience.

And yet, perhaps because I spend so much time with young people, I still inevitably find myself looking forward.  Perhaps that is part of why I teach -  it is a way of looking to a future that I hope extends well beyond when I pass.

I was fortunate in having adults who saw possibilities for me.  No, not all handled that well.  But enough did that no matter how much I struggled they were able to sustain me, to encourage me to keep trying, to take risks, to consider possibilities I otherwise might never have considered.

Some were teachers and professors.  One was a boss early in my work career, between stints in college - remember, I did not achieve my bachelor's degree until I was almost 27.  

I feel a responsibility to pay it forward, to be sure.

But it is more.  I can assess how much I have aged in recent years.  I tire more easily.  I forget things or get distracted.  I sometimes struggle for words and ideas that used to come easily.  On the other hand, no matter how bad a situation may be before me - personal or on the larger scales of society and politics -  I have lived long enough and through enough that I remain at least somewhat optimistic that what remains within my power can have a positive impact beyond my own life.

I feel an obligation.  It is to myself, to the best of my ideals, to try to make a difference.

Yet is is more.  It is not merely an obligation.  It is . . .how can I phrase this as once again I struggle for words . . .  it is privilege.  It connects me with things beyond myself that illuminate the universe through me.  It enables me to see possibilities through the eyes of others encountering them for the first time.  It makes the world alive, pregnant with opportunity not yet encountered.

The formal instruction for the year has ended.  Yesterday my Advanced Placement students sat for that examination.  Already the rest of my students have begun their review for the required state exam on May 20.  We now give those exams on computers, so all of next week will be interrupted with different groups out for their tests, for some of my students a total of four including our government exam which ends the cycle.

When they come in the following Monday, which will be my 65th birthday, they will have only two more things to do.  An open book, open noted, un-timed, take-home essay examination, and a project in which they cannot write a paper, must do at least 4 hours of work, and show me that they learned something.   I will be out of school between June 1 and June 9 to help grade the AP exams.  The final two student days in a year extended by 4 days because of snow are June 16 and 17, and I will be in Minneapolis.

What then happens in the remaining class days I am present?  We can explore topics of interest for the students.  The pressure is largely off,  at least for my courses.  They can reflect back on what we have accomplished, or if they prefer, through what they have lived this year.

I too will reflect back on the year.  I am already rethinking how I will teach next year, which may well be my last in the school that has been my home for more than a decade.  The students are different, and I have to adjust to meet them where they are before i can hope to entice them to move beyond their comfort zones and truly begin to own their own education.

As I near 65 a part of me clearly wants to look backward.  There are things I want to remember, to savor to remind myself of the richness I have been privileged to experience.  It is in people I have known.  Some are well known, others important to me even if not notable.

Yes, I want to look backward, but only because it inspires me to look forward, to realize that there is still so much I can do.  

I am lucky.

In about 90 minutes students will begin to arrive in my room for the day.  Some will want to chat with one another, others will have things to share with me.  They are young - in more than a few cases I am older than their grandparents.  They inspire me, even when they frustrate me.

I will never finish this journey, even though it will end.  I will not finish it because there is always more.  That could be depressing.  For me it is not.  For me it is inspiring, because it means that so long as I keep at it my life has meaning.

As I already said, I am lucky.  It is largely because as a man in midlife I finally found a purpose.   I am a teacher.


Originally posted to teacherken on Wed May 11, 2011 at 03:40 AM PDT.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge.

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Comment Preferences

  •  And now? it is time to proceed with the day (16+ / 0-)

    to get dressed and head out to school

    perhaps this will be read by very few, perhaps by many

    ultimately that does not matter

    I needed to take the time to reflect

    I wrote this largely for myself

    as a teacher I try to model what i would like for my students

    so do with this what you will

    I will be okay with that


    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Wed May 11, 2011 at 03:40:20 AM PDT

  •  now off to another day of school (4+ / 0-)

    and another chance, even without new instructional material, to make a difference in the world

    as I said, I am lucky

    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Wed May 11, 2011 at 04:09:47 AM PDT

  •  Seriously, one of your best diaries.... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Marko the Werelynx, Lujane

    especially uplifting when you reveal you're coming back for another year.

    "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made." Immanuel Kant

    by Rented Mule on Wed May 11, 2011 at 04:17:07 AM PDT

    •  while I am glad you enjoyed it (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I don't think this is all that well written, sorry.

      It was a somewhat labored attempt to work out some internal thoughts, which I shared in case they might speak to anyone else.

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Wed May 11, 2011 at 05:13:13 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Your birthday weighs heavily on you, my friend. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Mine hasn't really gotten to me yet although my cancer diagnosis blew me away (I'm fine now).  The thing is, when you look back at your life and wonder if you have really contributed, you can hold your head high.  Doubt that I can on any scale near yours.  My most significant contribution is my three children.

        Happy Birthday!

        movin' to DK4 soon, gonna be a dental floss tycoon ...

        by alliedoc on Wed May 11, 2011 at 02:46:01 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I give the last exam of my academic year at 10am. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane, annetteboardman

    The disappointment has been vicious this semester.  So it can't get much worse.

    •  sorry it has been so bad (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lujane, annetteboardman

      with my AP students I felt as if we were really laboring this year.  They were less prepared than previous years, and I did not feel I was connecting as well, so I wound up doing a lot more teacher-directed stuff than I normally would.

      When they came out of the AP exam, most said they felt well-prepared reading the questions, so I don't know.

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Wed May 11, 2011 at 05:14:31 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  What's wrong? (0+ / 0-)

      movin' to DK4 soon, gonna be a dental floss tycoon ...

      by alliedoc on Wed May 11, 2011 at 02:46:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Cost of college. I graduated high school in (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    1970.  I got a $20K gift from my grandparents for college.  I bought a brand new VW Beetle, flew out to California, and went to Cal.  Two trips per year back and forth to see my family, the education, the car, and money left for entertainment during part of grad school.

    movin' to DK4 soon, gonna be a dental floss tycoon ...

    by alliedoc on Wed May 11, 2011 at 02:43:06 PM PDT

  •  I have not had a chance to stop in to DK yet (0+ / 0-)

    I have been reading university portfolios all day.  All week, in fact, and coming home in the evenings to try to finish up grading.  Today we read students' examples of what they think was their best historical thinking and then their most personally satisfying experiences.  I find it very interesting to see what the students I know have thought about their university experiences, but not necessarily very reassuring.  I have had good students with what I thought were really enjoyable times here who have said how awful their experiences were, and others who have been nasty and uncooperative and insulting say in the final analysis how wonderful they felt their education was.  You can't tell.  But I read the portfolio submissions almost every year to get a feel for what our students achieve across the curriculum and what I can do to make their classtime more productive and useful.  So it is good it is a humbling experience at the end of the spring term.  And in a way it is a rounding out of the semester/year as well.

    Anyway, thank you for your writing this year all year, Ken, as you have wrestled with whether or not to stay in the classroom.  I appreciate your openness about your good days and your bad ones, and your ambivalence and pleasure in equal measures in the classroom and with your job.  When you eventually stop teaching in the school (I assume you will always have some educational tasks you set yourself), I will miss your classroom diaries, but I will look forward to your writing on other related (and unrelated topics).  I feel as though I have known you for the whole time I have been here (it has been 6 1/2 years now) and you are one of those I continually come back to read.  

    The end of the semester for me is always a time for reflection, and I will be trying to get myself together in a couple of weeks to reexamine some of my frustrations with the year.  It was a weird one, but I do believe I got some useful things out of it.  I just hope my students did as well.

    •  today we went over the AP Gov exam (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      we had the question sheets for the Free Response Questions.  There was part of one I had not covered -  it had to do with Democratic super delegates, and since this is not a presidential election year or just after one, I did not focus as much on those kinds of details.  But other than that they should have been very well prepared.

      But that does not mean they did well.  As much as I have tried to impress on them the importance of completing their thought process on the paper, some of them don't do that, and points on rubrics that are readily available get lost.

      Oh well.

      Next Friday is the state test.  Students will be in and out of classes the earlier part of the week for state tests in other subjects.

      I am done "teaching" for the year.  Now comes the fun part  :-)

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Thu May 12, 2011 at 06:58:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I have been making this point (0+ / 0-)
    Often we did sports on our own, not everything in organized leagues.  In the process of the kind of play we did we developed skills that served us well later on.  

    for years. I am 18 years your junior... but as with you, when I was a child, while there was little league and pee-wee football, the bulk of the sports we played were of the sandlot/street variety... where we'd pick sides...shirts versus skins... or it was Botsford St kids versus Allen St kids... but there were no adults involved... there were no referees, there was no defined structure.

    So... we had to make rules ourselves.... resolve disputes and conflicts ourselves.... referee and keep score ourselves...create the ground rules ourselves ( and believe me... when you played in another kid's neighborhood, the ground rules could vary greatly from those when you played in your own) had to deal with the type of play ourselves... this was particularly true when my brother and I would go play soccer on sunday afternoons up on the dirt field at the middle school with the caribbean and central american immigrants; even after showing we had ball skills and could compete on that level we quickly found that 'no blood, no foul' wasn't just a basketball thing... and crying or complaining or running to mommy was not an option if you ever wanted to play again... and of course schedule games and make up teams ourselves. Occasionally, my dad would come out and participate when we were playing basketball or football... but as a player, subject to the same rules as everyone else...

    These are skills I am finding the current generation has not been given an opportunity to develop. We having learned these lessons from our play have been remiss in ensuring that our children learned them also from theirs.

    Fear doesn't just breed incomprehension. It also breeds a spiteful, resentful hate of anyone and everyone who is in any way different from you.

    by awesumtenor on Thu May 12, 2011 at 08:59:57 AM PDT

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