In the early light, is there anything that holds more promise than a school building? Students arrive via bus or car or bike or foot, teachers too, all bringing a tangible energy, filled with all the opportunity in this day. I always smile driving up the hill to this grand building, the original section completed in 1928. I have spent nearly 3 decades working here, discussing story and craft and everything in between with students from 9th grade to 12th. This year that hopeful energy is even more palatable, because we are back full-time and in-person doing whatever is needed to keep our community safe, even graciously donning a mask. Heroes if you ask me as sacrifice has become the norm.
Two months ago we started a national effort to school students from home. Each state, perhaps even each district, dealt with this transition differently. I could not be prouder of my colleagues or my students for rising to meet this challenge head on with the full intention to keep our school community together. Twice a week I meet with all my students, through google meets, additional emails and individual meetings and phone calls. They have learned, I have learned, and swiftly we adapted to a digital forum. As a teacher of reading and writing, I have been privy to the inner thoughts and reflections of many students during this unprecedented time. They are experiencing a topsy-turvy new day to day of sheltering with all its crazy chaotic difficult challenges, yet still continue to show up digitally and wow me. Tonight, I thought I’d share some of their voices, their hopes and dreams, and everyday afternoons.
As I embark on a Shakespeare unit with my students, nine graders reading Romeo & Juliet and AP Lit reading Hamlet, we start with questions. Questions Elizabethan thinkers might have pondered in 1598; questions we still ponder in 2018. I am struck with our timeless preoccupation over destiny: Are we the masters of our own fate? I ask students to think and write about their beliefs on this topic. Certainly, these teens, like those penned by Shakespeare, want to believe they are, indeed, in control of their outcomes, while I, I who have screamed up at the Heavens in distress, frustrated by the unpredictability of chance, those ‘why me’ moments; “O, I am Fortune’s fool” situations. As if we are pulled by strings invisible to our own hands. Just when we want/need/hope for a different outcome we must settle for what is… but as I look across the classroom at my students, into their hopeful eyes, their exuberant optimism, I see their uniform belief that yes, they are masters of their fate. They aren’t phased by headlines or politicians’ lies; they see their own trajectory as it slants up and beyond, straight into the starry night. Straight into heaven.