Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Rapture

The last week has been an intense one: rain every day, anticipating the end of the year and on top of that the world was supposed to end today.

My 10th graders didn't mention it once, but my 9th graders were obsessed.  Everyday discussing with humor and dramatized panic how their lives would end, loudly derailing all attempts at mathematical instruction.  From my point of view it's a reasonable question: I'm not sure I would choose to be in school if in fact we really knew we were living our last few days.

Yesterday was the pinnacle.  RJ came into school and wrote "THE END IS NEAR" on the whiteboard.  I inserted "of school" between "end" and "is," but no one noticed.  Every student was asking me what I believed, but they didn't care about the answer.  Whether they agreed with me, were reassured or skeptical, it didn't change their desire to talk about this and nothing else.

By math class two periods later, they were saying goodbye to each other.  ST asked, "Jesse, will we still have math class in heaven?"  DM shouted out, "Jesse I love you, I'm going to miss you," and then asked the class if they would miss him.  "Clap if you're going to miss me, class."  Everyone clapped.  "Clap if you're going to miss ST."  Everyone clapped.  "Clap if you're going to miss Jesse."  Everyone clapped.  Very sweet.

Then out of the blue, OF loudly shares, smiling, "I'm going to die a virgin."  The class notices but the chatter continues.  I feel like I'm the only one who has really appreciated the vulnerability and generosity of this comment.  He is so sincere, expressing in his innocence the loss of all the unknown ahead of him.  He doesn't sound like he is eager to remedy the gap in the next 24 hours, just that he's sad, or even nostalgic, for a future he won't live to see.  Amazing.

The funny thing is that all week I've been trying to figure out how to terminate with these students.  From all that I have learned about in studying the theory of group dynamics, termination, or the ending of a group, is a hugely important opportunity.  We all re-live our experiences of loss and abandonment when things end.  If the facilitator of a group makes this ending transparent and gives the group time to process their feelings, to experience an end without surprise, the group can both experience less trauma in the ending itself, but also heal their past injuries.  What this looks like in my classroom is simple.  I tell them every day how many days we have left.  I keep bringing the end to mind and then when they have things to say about it, I listen.

This week I learned that with the kids who know already that they have to repeat the year and are disinclined to come to school for academic reasons, the group can still be a reason to come to school.  They are a part of something, whether they pass or fail, whether they behave well or badly and get kicked out of class.  It matters that they are here at the end; it matters that they are a part of this group that is ending.  We all want them there, and it's not the same without them.

So when this major endings conversation arose, I didn't stop it.  This rapture thing is getting my kids to do all this processing around endings and it's awesome.  So "No, we're probably not going to die," I say.  "But this group is going to end in 3.5 weeks."

It helps to have time to say goodbye.  To tell each other that we're going to miss each other, to acknowledge that even when we see each other again next year it won't be the same.  Some people will stay and others will go, and our group will not exist anymore.



  1. The day's not over yet. ;^)

    There are billboards up around here. Crazy stuff...

  2. This one touched my heart! I always loved the ends and beginnings of the teaching cycle. Wonderful that you pay attention.