Wednesday, May 27, 2015

To The Class of 2015

For the last five years, I've written a "graduation speech that wasn't" on the blog. We don't even really have a speech at our high school's graduation anymore, but if I had a chance, here's what I'd say to the class of 2015:

I’m struggling to keep up with you. This is the first year I’ve noticed. Once during my first year of teaching, one student asked a classmate listening to a “walkman”—“What are you listening to?”  The student replied, “nothing anybody in here would recognize except Mr. Turner.” Not any more. I still think of Pearl Jam as new music.

I’ve finally reached the age of jumping the chasm across the generation gap, and when I look back to the other side it often leaves me confused. Here’s what I see that is different—not worse, just different.

You expect things to start faster. I used to wait for my favorite show every week, sit through a 1-3 minute elaborate theme song, tolerate a short commercial break, and then enjoy the slow build up to the main plot of the show. Today we binge watch shows online, that mostly start with a cold open, right in the middle of the action.

You don’t have to plan ahead.. When I was a teenager, if you showed up late, or even worse, if someone else was on the phone, our plan for the weekend could end before it even started. Today, we just send a text when we’re ready to meet.

You can legitimately outsource some responsibility. As a teenager and young adult, I had to keep up with class handouts, and later on, my bills. Today, we don’t need to remember as much because it is accessible on demand. I’ll admit, I even get a weekly text reminder from my google calendar to take out the trash.

Notice I didn’t make a stark contrast with me and you. I binge watch, text when I’m ready, and remember only what I deem necessary. We live in the same world, but the world that made me is different than the world that has made you.

What can we learn from this different world?

Early in your life, you experienced September 11,  Hurricane’s Katrina and Sandy, numerous shootings and civil unrest, even an earthquake in Central Virginia. We learned that safety, security, and stability shouldn’t be taken for granted. Policies and plans are necessary, but human wisdom, flexibility, and cooperation get us through the chaos.

Throughout your life, access to nearly everything has expanded. You can find out the GDP of New Zealand, learn about the origins of Punk Rock, or watch a monkey drink it’s own urine, with a click of your mouse. You learn from an early age that some things seen can’t be unseen. As you grow older, you will learn that just because something is available doesn’t mean it’s ok to consume.

Today, you live in a world with unprecedented recording. Whether in written word, images, or moving pictures, much of our life is documented. You’ve grown up learning how to manage a profile. But integrity is still vital for your mental health. It’s hard to manage our image, so the quicker you learn to be who you are, the better off you will be.

My hope for you as my future is this: May you enter a new world of technology and innovation with a strong sense of yourself, your world, and your part in it. May you continue to recognize the importance of civic responsibility and your greater connection to humanity. May you continue to seek out wisdom, and struggle to find a strong moral code. This will prepare you to wield the power that our world is about to place in your hands.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Time and Priority

We've been apologizing a lot lately about the absence of activity on the Underground. I was a little surprised to notice today that we haven't added a post since December. Over Five months ago! Where has the time gone? The easy answer would be we just don't have enough time to devote to the blog anymore. That easy answer is actually a lie. Not having enough time is a mind set that limits our perception of control over our life and ultimately adds to the stress and pressure of life. We could have written more in the last five months, but the truth is we've chosen to do other things with our time.

This week, our school planned a few activities to help students "destress" since our testing season opens next week. In the midst of passing out candy and watching students blow bubbles and make chalk art on our breezeway an administrator jokingly made this comment: "If these teachers would just stop stressing these kids out with so much work and pressuring them about these AP and SOL tests we wouldn't need to do this."

His comment really hit a nerve. I was probably a little rude in my response, but I pointed out that many of these kids were returning from an 18-hour road trip, missing two days of school and returning home at 1am on Sunday morning. (band trip). Many of these same students will joined a number of other students who were at school from 4pm to nearly midnight every day this week preparing for our Spring Musical. Multiple sports had competitions this week and in addition to daily practice from about 4-6:30 students were out until as late as 11:00 some nights. Yet the burden of student stress rests on what I'm doing in my class?

"I just didn't have time to do it?" I often hear from students. And, this is what I tell them.

There's no such thing as not having enough time. We prioritize and choose what we do. If sleep is more important that our work we make a rational choice to sleep and take the consequences of not doing our work  If connecting with friends and family is a more valuable use of my time than studying for a test, we make a rational choice to spend time with people close to us and take what we get on the test. If you really think the paper is more important that afternoon practice, you make a rational choice to miss the practice and accept the fact that you may have to sit the bench for a period or two as a result.

There is no such thing as having enough time to do everything and to do it well. This attitude allows you to take control of your time instead of letting your time control you. I encourage my students to remove the phrase "I didn't have time" from their vocabulary. It lets you move beyond making excuses and toward finding solutions.

It doesn't just apply to students. If I don't eat lunch with my colleagues it's not because I don't have time, it is because grading assignments is more important to me than conversation. If I don't grade an assignment within a given time frame it's not because I didn't have time to do it, it is because I chose other activities instead. It means that we will choose to do some things well, some things good enough, and other things not at all.

I was a little snarky with the administrator, but I'm glad those kids got to take such a great trip. I appreciate the excellence that our school achieves in the arts and athletics. But I'd like for everyone to stop pretending that getting stressed is not the normal response to an attitude that we can do everything we want to do and we can do it well.