Redemptive Endings

I have blogged before about the start of a class and how it's become one of my favorite times in the semester (Where they are right now ). During the first week nothing has gone wrong yet and you think you might just get it right this time. The students also have a sense of optimism that the course will be the one that that works, that won't disappoint. The first day and even the first week is all about expectations and starting fresh. On the other hand, there's much to be said for the end of a semester. In fact, it can be the best part if you structure it right.

I gave up heavily-weighted finals years ago in favor of reflective papers in which students tell me which ideas most engaged them and how those ideas were applied beyond the classroom. I also ask them to describe those accomplishments that gave them the most satisfaction and pride.

As a result I now get to spend finals week reading about what worked rather than lamenting poor performances on some tedious comprehensive final. Here's a sampling of the kind of things I got to enjoy this past week. They come from my first-year Humanities section.

After we finished discussing the Iliad in class, the movie Troy was on cable, which I have always thought was one of my favorite movies. However, after reading the poem, watching the movie was just not the same. That they left out scenes with the gods was very disappointing because the gods are such a huge and crucial part of the story.

For those keeping score, that's Homer 1, Brad Pitt 0.

Here's another gem. At the semester's outset I have students make personal learning goals. One young woman said she wanted to work on turning assignments in on time and revising for a higher grade. By the end of the semester, however, her goal had changed:
In the middle of the semester (around the time I was studying with flashcards for a Western Civ test, trying to memorize information that I would soon forget), my goals in your class changed. I wanted to focus more on gaining a deeper understanding of the material, and less on mundane things like revision and completing the assignments on time. I realized that the purpose of this class was not just to get a grade, but to build knowledge. This class really changed the way I think about education. I realize that it's not about a grade or getting 20 out of 20 on the Analysis Tasks. I want to learn to better myself as a human being. I did this by spending hours not only reading, but also analyzing and trying to understand the deeper meaning. Every one of my texts, even the reader, has my trademark pink ink in it from me scribbling down ideas, reactions and thoughts about the text.
I swear I did not bribe this student. That's what she wrote and it floored me. Here are a few more reasons to keep going at this job:

Every day when I stepped into this class I felt like I was stepping into an interactive movie. I left feeling like the past was closer than it had ever been before.

I know I've already said this plenty of times, but... I am so glad I took this class. The things I learned sitting in that chair by the window will last a long time and they opened my eyes up to different ideas and pieces of work. I'm actually going to reread the Iliad from beginning to end over break (the same with the Inferno).
Okay, okay, I'll stop now. I don't want to appear to brag, but what can I do? I have nobody with whom to share these success stories. The problem with teaching is there's never anyone around to high-five when stuff actually works. I know one thing, though. Reading these papers is a helluva lot more fun than grading final exams.


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