If you’re an educator, now is the time to celebrate your students.
Celebrating students is always important, but teaching amidst a pandemic requires that educators seek moments to affirm and celebrate students to keep them encouraged. It’s important that we educators do that. It’s a practice that I try to do frequently with my own students, as I am demand the best of them in the classroom.
I have the privilege of teaching 25 sophomore students AP U.S. History. As part of their course work, students read peer reviewed journal articles and books written by academics, followed by using research to write papers about their thoughts surrounding what it is they read.
The last week of January was the end of our marking period and also the week their 12 to 15-page research paper was due. My students have never written the sort of paper I required of them prior to this class. Throughout the process, they’ve shared their insecurity and the lack of confidence with completing the paper. However, I encouraged them, instructed them well and they’ve reached the finished line.
Their turning in their papers was a beautiful thing to see. I was as proud of them as they were relieved and exhausted. Through all the lessons, the drafts, zoom cram sessions, they achieved the goal and it was time to celebrate them. More importantly, they trusted me enough to teach them; they’ve trusted me enough to cultivate a culture of academic rigor as well as a community of support within our class. It’s enabled me to push my students in ways that they are not used to being pushed. My primary role as their AP teacher is to prepare them for college level work and that requires that they are pushed to do what they believe they are incapable of—but they are more than capable.
The day they turned in those papers, their faces showed relief and exhaustion. But they also showed their belief in their own capability. Writing a 12 to 15-page paper in 10th grade is a huge accomplishment. I can’t say that I’ve done that, and I’m not sure I was equipped to do so if I was assigned such a thing. My students would tell you that they weren’t equipped to do so but the difference is that my teaching was informed by what I never had and thus they were the beneficiaries of what I always wanted; someone who believed in my academic potential.
Therefore, it was a day of celebration.
Earlier that morning, while on the way to work, I stopped by a local market, picked up a few plastic cups and some sparkling cider, sparkling cider, and when we had class this morning we clapped it up for each other and after figuring out how to open the sparkling cider bottles without a bottle opener, we poured the cider into the cups, invited the other teachers as part of our community and we raised our glasses in celebration of their accomplishment.
When we raised our plastic glasses of cider in the air, the looks of exhaustion turned into smiles and laughter.
My students realize that they did accomplish something big, and that they accomplished it together. Although it may not seem like a momentous thing in the grand scheme of their lives, those students celebrated an academic accomplishment that they will remember for many years to come. Assisting students with writing a 12 to 15-page paper was not a miracle. Neither was them actually doing it. Rather it was an exercise in what can happen when you build community.
At this point in the year, together we’ve built a community where by we trust each other to move forward in the work of gaining knowledge and becoming empowered by that knowledge to one day change the world.
Whether it’s researching to write 12 to 15 pages, reading scholarly text from academic journals and non-fiction books, or debating one another on social issues of the day, these young people have done something incredible; they’ve built a level of camaraderie that when the next year comes and they begin to take college level courses, they not only will lean on their experiences in this class but they will lean on each other for support and affirmation.
I have the pleasure of teaching Black and Latinx students; descendants of African peoples and we are a communal people. We live and function in community. When we accomplish something, we do so in community with others. In other words when one of us make it, we all make it. So, it’s important for young people to understand that their work is not done in isolation, but done in community whereby they can receive encouragement, affirmation, and inspiration to keep moving forward.
I’m proud of my students and I’m proud of the community that they’ve cultivated over a span of six months. I look forward to the months ahead as we forge ahead with learning even more to equip them and empower them to be all that their creator designed them to be.
You might ask, is all this sentiment necessary upon receiving 12 to 15-page papers from 25 students. Do we need sparkling cider for that?
My answer is like a parent who celebrates every milestone of their children, so should educators do the same with their students. Celebrate them when they crawl, walk and run. Those memories will sustain them on their journey to their next destination.