Even though grades are due this coming Monday, Wednesday was really the final day of the school year for most of us. All we thought that afternoon, as the faculty and staff celebrated, was that we survived.
We opened on September 3 and finished the academic year without once having to close because of Covid-19. Any cases were traced to outside the building and although that meant many sports, including our basketball season, were wiped out, we could continue to teach. All the protocols put into place went as hoped.
As May wore on, more and more students were coming in to get a taste of class life. I had to add desks to my room, thankfully after the six-foot distance requirement was reduced to three. I finally got to meet some of my freshmen in the flesh for the first time. For others, that meant when they actually came in to take exams.
It was decided our freshmen needed to experience finals in addition to reminding the other classes what was involved in preparing for exams. So as not to overwhelm them, it was deemed there would be four, and English was exempted. Instead, we gave our students final essays or projects that would count as fourth quarter grades.
This meant my students were done with my class by May 25, the final day of the quarter. I then could grade the 120 or so essays in comfort, only needing to be back in the building on occasion to help proctor the tests. And just like that, on Wednesday, the bell rang and Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” blared on the loudspeakers.
The Seniors graduated on the 26th, a full mass and ceremony under a huge tent on the campus, the only way families could be present in force. It was thankfully not too hot and it went out beautifully.
I will miss many of the seniors who I had taught as either sophomores or juniors, taking pride in the ones who grew during the years or overcame obstacles.
One final thing I asked my students to do was write me an end-of-year reflection. In reading through their comments, I saw they liked things I thought they hated and I received some good advice about next year.
Then it was my turn to reflect. After all, the newly revised freshmen curriculum had just finished its first cycle so it was time to think about finetuning. My concern was that my survey of literature skimped in each unit so should I drop a unit and expand the others? I also recognized that I needed to build in more time to do a better job breaking down writing assignments, filling in gaps of knowledge.
I had very productive one-on-one discussions about the above with our principal, assistant principal, and head of our Learning Center. It was pointed out that many incoming freshmen learned virtually nothing after last March as the lockdown began. There was a retardation of knowledge and a lack of skills practice. Next year’s class would likely be as weak in these areas. My principal loves how I teach and what I teach but felt the literature needed to take a back seat to stronger writing. The AP and I talked about how too few students took actual notes this year, something we needed to fix.
There were a lot of good discussions and all the feedback will be rattling in the back of my mind as I spend most of the summer as a writer. Come August 1 or so, I will begin to rebuild and revise, readying for the return on August 17.
Overall, it was a good year. I enjoyed the vast majority of my freshmen. The biggest disappointment was not having my juniors in the room so we could discuss the literature. To me, that Honors Brit Lit class was a lost opportunity and I have the impression they saw it in the same way.