The Value of An Eraser

As the class of 2015 graduates, here are some reflections on the challenges of this particular class and the value of knowing that everything can be revisited and revised.

This week, I got to celebrate the class of 2015 at their graduation ceremony. I felt the typical feelings of sentiment and excitement for my graduating seniors as I reflected on our many adventures and learning opportunities. This year, though, I also felt relief as I said goodbye to one of my most difficult classes.

There are a variety of reasons that this year and class were so challenging. In my twelve years of teaching, I have learned the important truth that you have to win the support of a critical mass for day-to-day classroom structures to work smoothly. One of my senior classes did not have the support of the critical mass.

Nearly every task I asked them to participate in with me was met with verbal dissent or passive refusal. I pulled all of my motivational tricks out of my teacher hat, but was never able to win the their support. And so every day became a slog upstream to work through required tasks.

The most heartbreaking part of this for me was when the students claimed that our head-butting stemmed from my dislike of them as individuals.  This really made me think about how I was presenting myself and the frustration I felt about how things were going. I made it a goal to go into the classroom every day with a positive mindset and to focus on the things I appreciated about each individual in my class.

I had to remind myself often that while chemistry is important for the function of a classroom environment, individuals don’t deserve to be categorized or generalized based on the groups they might find themselves in.

To make sure this lesson stuck for myself and for my students, I stood up in front of them on the last day of class and apologized for making it seem like I didn’t like them. I told them honestly that I didn’t love the environment we had created as a group and the emotional struggle that had caused for me each day. But I also told them that I held each of them dear in my heart for a variety of reasons.

To make sure this was communicated concretely, I handwrote each of them a note telling them something specific I appreciated about them. In addition, I gave them the following note along with a small eraser. 

Dear Seniors,

As you go forth to new adventures, here is a small (and metaphoric!) gift from me.

An eraser. An under sung hero of the office supply world, this little device provides the magical ability to make changes. If you take the time to revisit your thinking and allow yourself the opportunity to explore new ideas or new ways of expressing your ideas, the eraser is invaluable to your learning process.

You are currently engaged in the process of writing the narrative of who you are. And you have choices in this narrative. You can choose to erase the insecurities and anger that might have defined the high school chapters of your life. You can also choose to continue with the narrative thread of friendships and passions that you might have discovered here at Horizon High School.

However, just as an eraser often leaves a little residue on your papers, you will always have a little residue of all of your experiences, good or bad. This residue will help you to remember the first drafts of how you interacted with that experience before and make a better-informed decision about how to interact with it moving forward.

There will be many times in your life where you wish you could have a giant easer that could swiftly and easily change the things that don’t seem right. Unfortunately, that kind of magic does not exist. Many of your actions, ideas, emotions, and interactions will never have a written record, but will remain in your memory. This is a gift. All of the experiences that we have, good or bad, make up the story that we live.

Throughout this process, I encourage you to be reflective, thoughtful and kind (to yourself and others). Remember that others are also engaged in the same drafting process that you are and do what you can to enhance their characterization. Be careful about erasing too much, but don’t hesitate to erase the things that bring you down. And in all things, remember what you know about good stories—they are filled with twists, turns, and lots of adventure.  I can’t wait to read/hear about yours soon!

I wish I could tell you that this inspired some sort of Dead Poet’s Society moment between me and my students, but it didn’t. A few students found me later in the day to thank me and to apologize, but the overall response was similar to how the rest of year had been—meh.

I hope, however, that my intention will stick with them. I hope they realize that they each have something unique and valuable to add to the communities that they find themselves in. And I hope that they will become a little more thoughtful about how they can impact the success of those communities.

I am also going to put an eraser on my desk where I can see it each day and remember that I also get a chance to do better. I can revise my attitude and thinking for next year and I can begin the 2015/16 school year with more insight than I had before.

The residue of this class will stick with me. I am going to let that residue impact me for the better rather than holding onto the hurt and frustration that made this spring so difficult. I know I can do better and, therefore, I am going to chose to be kind to myself as well as I continue to write the narrative of my teaching career and life. 

Image Credit: Alex Morfin

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  • Mark Sass

    Tough year

    Nice reflection on your year Jessica. I had the same experience with one of my classes where they mistook my high expectations as not liking them. Teachers, especially, need big erasures. 

  • Tracey

    Tone

    It's funny how the tone of a class can have such an effect on the learning. Students' attitudes toward the teacher can make teaching so challenging. It's difficult not to buy into these attitudes and sometimes mirror them (and especially difficult to be cheerful and helpful when you are faced with agression). I love your end of the year idea. Once these students mature, hopefully they will see the errors in their ways. Thanks for sharing.