Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How I Missed My Son's 8th Grade Graduation

I'm pretty sure it was the largest class to ever graduate from Jack Jouett Middle School. Somewhere close to two-hundred and fifty eighth graders. So large, they moved the graduation down the road to Albemarle High School. It worked out well for me, that's where I teach. I wouldn't even have to take leave to slide down to the auditorium for a short middle school graduation.

My wife and I found good seats in the standing room only crowd. Like most graduations, we were there to watch our son walk across the stage, literally, from one stage of life to the next. But I missed it, and all I got instead was this lousy picture.

Bearing my name, I knew he'd be in the second half of the second half of the alphabet. I patiently waited for the "S's" to remove my phone from my pocket to ready the camera. I tried out the angles and settings as the first "T" was called and sat prepared to capture my son's milestone.

They called his name. As he walked up the steps I snapped a shot and inspected. "Too soon, that's no good, I've got time for another." So I tried again. "Too far away, I need more zoom." By now he's reaching for his certificate. "Last chance, better make it good." As I inspected the picture above, he started down the aisle, walking toward the back of the room and I realized, "I didn't even see him graduate."

I'd gotten so concerned about documenting and preserving the experience that in the end, I missed out and all I've got to show for it is a poor quality picture. That image would mean so much more if I'd paused to savor the moment, paid attention to what was happening, and allowed that memory to process for me to hold in my mind forever.

But I've learned a valuable lesson moving forward into this school year. The moment is so much more important than the documentation. We've become a culture that values the proof more than the experience. It's not enough to do. There has to be evidence that it's been done.

This is true of our vacations that we document on social media and it's true of our classrooms where the shiny project for display takes precedence over learning.

I'm not missing out this year, and I'm not going to let my students miss out. I'll still snap pictures when something cool is happening, I'll still have students produce projects to complement their learning. But I'm not going to waste so much time "trying to take the picture" that I miss out on the important things that are going on.

This happens in many ways in our classrooms:
1) The grade becomes more important than the learning
2) The project becomes a showpiece instead of a learning process
3) The teacher evaluation becomes self-promotion instead of honest self-reflection
4) The student work is displayed to demonstrate the creativity of the teacher instead of reinforcing the effort of the student.

I'm sure there's more. But I think all of it is solved by committing to be fully present to our students and their needs in every interaction we have with them.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps you should have had him take a selfie...

    Look Up

    Look Down(Parody)