It’s been a week since my last post and a lot has happened. I’m burning through the end of my summer while getting ready for school to start again in a week. My parents came to town to visit and now that they’ve left, it’s time to get down to business. I’ve undergone the arduous task of trying to get 9 junior and senior newspaper editors to agree on a time and date to meet up before school starts and get planning (more on that in the next post).
I used the Civil Rights trip as a jumpstart for my blog, and I know that it was a very specific trip with a lot of information that probably only applied to a smaller subset of readers. To those who have read and given feedback, I truly appreciate it. However, as the year begins I will try to take a wider approach and hopefully expand m my reach.
Much has been written about the benefits of extra curricular activities in a school setting, but my intention is not to rehash statistics. Those numbers are usually lifeless, sterile lists that sound great but really don’t have value to a lot of teachers deciding how much extra time they want to put into their work days. I want to share stories from my years of teaching to help humanize the importance of extra-curricular activities for not just students, but also the teachers who get involved.
Students will gain a greater connection to their school and their peers
I sponsored the yearbook at our school for 7 years, and my goal was to make sure that all groups in the school would be represented by our members. We were responsible for making a yearbook that would resonate with every student in the school, so I needed all voices to be heard. This meant that in addition to the “traditional” yearbook kids who already cared about school and found their way to me, I had to go out of my way to recruit kids from different backgrounds. I ended up taking a chance on a lot of kids who probably shouldn’t have been in a club where not doing work the right way could cost the school money and potentially embarrass us. Luckily, our yearbooks never had anything that got us in trouble, and for the most part, all of my chances turned out great.
One of my former students, I’ll call her “Beth” didn’t talk. When I say she didn’t talk, I’m not saying that she couldn’t speak, she just chose not to. Beth’s name first came to my attention in an email from a colleague who knew the student. This teacher knew that Beth had all the potential in the world and wanted to get her involved in something. When Beth said she was interested in photography, she was sent my way. She spent two years with me as a yearbook student, and I think the longest conversation I had with her was maybe a few sentences. This was unusual for me, as normally I can build a strong relationship with my yearbook and newspaper kids since we spend so much time and go through so many stressful situations together.
As we got close to graduation, I was feeling as if I had failed Beth. She seemed to like her time in yearbook, and she turned her work in on time. She was not always available to take photos after school, and wasn’t the strongest writer, so I took what I could get. At our awards banquet every year I make sure to give each student a superlative certificate that reflects his or her role in the room. The best I could come up with for Beth was “Most likely to fly under the radar.”
Graduation came and went, and I was starting to focus on my new staff that August when one of my staff members pulled me aside. Beth had gone through some hardships over the summer and was dealing with some life changes, but she posted a message on social media. My current yearbook staffer was shocked, as she read a post from Beth saying that Yearbook was the closest thing she had to a family, and that it was the only thing she was missing about high school. She cherished the relationships that she had made, and the connection she felt to her school. I may have felt like I was failing her because I felt I could never form that connection that I had with other students, but apparently just being a part of something made a huge difference to her.
Students can gain better relationships with staff members and find “their person”
I believe that all students must find their “person.” I’ve had this conversation with colleagues often, and it is the importance of finding that adult advocate for each student. By volunteering for these extra opportunities, teachers end up with a built in collection of students who consider them their person. Being that advocate can sometimes get wearing, as you often hear the most difficult stories in these student’s lives and have to try to figure out how to help them or who else in the building can help. However, it helps more students find that adult that they need to help them in times of need.
I’ve had a lot of students spend the morning before school and the time during their lunch in my room. I have so many students dropping off stuff to stay in my room all day that the running joke is that my classroom is just a giant backpack, but I also have many students who just want to hang out and talk. One of these students, “Toni,” was in my room all free hours of her day, and she was a member of newspaper and yearbook to be in there even more. She came to me in times of joy, but also in many times of sorrow and knew that I would be there to listen and help without judgment.
I used to hate it when students called me their school dad because it made me feel old (at least call me your school older brother). I own it now, and I really do feel like a dad to students like Toni, who continue to come back and visit and share with me how their life has been going after high school. She was not the first, and she will not be the last to call me her school dad, and I know that means she knew (and always will know) that she had the advocate/mentor that she needed.
Teachers can gain a whole new set of work advocates and have more reason to look forward to school each day.
During my parents’ visit last week, we also had a surprise visit from my wife’s aunt and uncle. They both worked in education as well, and when I was talking to her uncle about starting this blog, he said something that struck me. Just like extra-curriculars give students a reason to look forward to school each day, they can also give teachers an extra boost. School years are long and there are days when it seems like it will be impossible to get through the day, but having these activities gives an extra incentive.
I’ve also learned that sponsoring these activities helps open up a connection to many teachers that I probably wouldn’t speak to otherwise. Speaking with other sponsors about their clubs and their experiences helps create more allies in the school to help in times of need. I have had countless conversations after school with other sponsors and they have opened my eyes to new strategies and techniques to help build my programs and help my kids.