Teachers refuse to wind down as school year closes – Web Exclusive

Rachel Giesel | Staff Writer

The end of the school year can create a challenge for teachers as students’ attention wanes, according to Honors English III teacher Ann Helwig. In order to continue expanding the minds of her pupils in this difficult time where thoughts stray from studies, Helwig said she knows that she has to keep up her energy.“I don’t seem able to stop myself [from caring],” Helwig said. “I do it to keep myself sane, [but my students] create the energy for me. Sometimes they appear wide-eyed [about my enthusiasm.] Mostly they contribute to it.”

World History teacher Vance Reid said it’s necessary for him to help build the foundation of life for his students using continued energetic efforts.

“It’s hard for old people to make changes in their life, but young people are trying to find their place in the circle,” Reid said. “You can change them [and] be a building block [or] a foundation for them in a lot of different ways. I care — I always have; that’s just a part of me. I got into this to help kids. If someone has a problem that I can help them with, I want to be there to do that. It’s important to me.”

Multicultural Literature teacher Caryn Jenkins said she tries to maintain enthusiasm and continuously impact the seniors she teaches, because she believes it’s important to leave them with satisfying memories.

“I teach seniors,” Jenkins said. “Their experience in my class is among their last memories of high school. I don’t want to be remembered as [the teacher about whom they’ll say,] ‘We didn’t do anything in that class.’ That makes me cringe.”

Jenkins said she tries to create these memories in her lessons because “time is running out,” and Helwig said she agrees that there is no time to waste when learning. At the end of the school year, however, students have to consider prom, AP testing, end-of-course-exams, class finals, the upcoming summer and much more. All these events can cause distraction from schoolwork, according to Reid.

“It’s definitely harder to teach third trimester,” Reid said. “[There’s] talk about senioritis, spring fever, and there’s a reason [people] talk about them. The sun comes out and [students] start thinking about the beach, break and ice cream cones. I do my best to keep them motivated [and] attentive, [but] it’s inevitable that they’re going to lose focus.”

Helwig said that in order to retain students’ interest, she must be zealous about what she’s teaching them.

“Our curriculum is so compacted in the third trimester,” Helwig said. “If we teachers don’t press forward, we can’t accomplish our objectives. I tap dance around the room, figuratively, and teach things I like a lot, [such as ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred] Prufrock’ [by T.S. Eliot] and [The Great] Gatsby.”

Reid said the last few weeks of school force the most amount of work to be compressed in a short time frame. Overall, he said he thinks the 12-week trimester schedule makes it easier for kids to become distracted.

“It’s hard for young people to stay focused for 12 weeks,” Reid said. “Bottom line is, the way things go down with the 12-week situation around here, in some classes, 30 to 40 percent of your grade comes down to those last two weeks. That’s when your projects, presentations, folders [and] final exams are due. And a lot of times, [the students are] sliding. I always tell my kids that regardless, start strong, but [also] finish strong.”

Reid said this proves that it is crucial for him to stay consistent with his daily rapport.

“It’s important I practice what I preach,” Reid said. “I’m tired too, but I’m never [going to] let them see that. It’s imperative that I go strong in those last weeks, because [students have to] understand how important it is. You can’t just say it and not do it. Anything I do, I try to put in as much energy as I can. I try not to wear out by fifth bell and I try not to wear out at the end of the trimester. I’m going to be the same every day; that’s my goal.”

Jenkins said she also tries to keep up the pace in her classroom as the final trimester nears its end, but she said she feels like her students are improving in their studies because they are learning self-responsibility.

“I embrace the spring fever and senioritis, instead of fighting it,” Jenkins said. “[My students] are doing hands-on service projects in Over the Rhine. They’re more energized because they’re making an impact beyond Mason High School. It’s helping them cross the bridge between MHS and the real world.”

Helwig said her class helps students transition to more academic writing techniques. She said that despite her efforts, however, this is a common time for students to start slacking off. But, she said she has devised plans and a compiled a “huge repertoire of tricks” to assist those who may be unmotivated.

Reid said one of his “tricks” to attract attention is to direct the class to different topics repeatedly.

“When you have such long block classes, it’s imperative that you change things up,” Reid said. “All teachers do this. Students don’t realize this, but every 15 or 20 minutes, I’m changing the direction we’re going in class. [Social studies] can be boring for young people: they get turned-off by it. [And] it gets a bad reputation. So, I try to be as excited as I can about my subject matter, [and] be demonstrative [of] how important it is.”

Jenkins said she feels like she doesn’t need to use any strategies to help her seniors generate more effort at the end of the year. She said she feels as if they are more self-motivated due to the lack of time remaining in their high school career.

“If you compared winter to spring, the students are not working with the same percentage of effort,” Jenkins said. “It can’t be the same, because time’s running out.”

The beginning of the school year is easier for Reid to teach, he said, because his ninth graders are in a new environment and are more susceptible to learning.

“It’s easier [at the beginning of the year] for me, because I teach ninth graders,” Reid said. “They’re still a little bit freaked out and overwhelmed by this big place. Then, [as the year goes on,] they get comfortable, think they’re sophomores already and then lose focus.”

While students’ efforts may differ throughout the year, Helwig, who has taught for approximately 27 years, said there is little variation in passion among teachers year-round. She said doesn’t feel like her efforts are different from any other teachers’, because they’re all working towards the same goals.

“[Teachers] all share curriculum and methods,” Helwig said. “The only difference [between us that] I can think of [is that] I have a lot of experience.”

Reid said he also understands that he isn’t any more unusual than other teachers, besides his 24 years of experience. He said he admires and aspires to be as great as his co-workers.

“I’ve been doing this for 24 years, [and] I’ve learned some things on the way,” Reid said. “Part of it is [that] I like kids and I’m not afraid to show that. But, I think most teachers here do. I’m in amazement in how many great teachers there are here. I thought I was pretty good, and then I got here and [realized] I’m just part of an all star team. I needed to step my game up a lot. And that’s been good for me. I’m glad I made that change in my life, because I had to get better.”

Jenkins said she agrees that she doesn’t feel any more special than other teachers.

“Most of my colleagues are here because they want to be,” Jenkins said. “We fit different kids, but we all care and want to teach and leave them with good memories. I’m not that different.”

One of the only major differences between teachers is their personalities, according to Jenkins. She said that she feels close with her students because she remains “transparent” with her persona.

“I feel like I have good relationships with my students,” Jenkins said. “My personality is the same in and out of the class. I have invested interest in these kids. And they know when I’m so mad and when I’m so proud I want to cry.”

Even though Jenkins said she sustains positive relationships with her students, she said that some of them may become upset with her because of the amount of work they must complete toward the end of the year. The extra effort, however, can help them prepare for the next year, Jenkins said, because it lets students “cross the bridge” into the following stage of their lives.

“Good teachers remember what it’s like to be in high school,” Jenkins said. “I’m not waving deadlines over their heads, because I know they have four other classes.”

Just as Jenkins said she teaches more than just the curriculum by helping the surrounding community, Reid said he strongly believes there’s more to teaching than just the curriculum: he said he tries to impact the lives of his students so they’ll remember life lessons.

“This school is really test-oriented,” Reid said. “It really has very high standards. So, a lot of what I do is curriculum-based, but I’m a strong believer that the classroom is a place to [teach] life and to teach curriculum. This I have learned [and] gained through my experiences. I try to help kids believe in and feel good about themselves. There [are] different teachable moments that come up, and I try to make those life lessons [available] for everybody. It’s been a positive for me and my life to believe in myself. I think everybody needs that to be happy.”

Jenkins said that remembering the life lessons she learned in high school helps her appreciate her students’ development: watching seniors learn to grow into adults is what she said she enjoys most about teaching seniors. She said the growth socially as well as academically is worthwhile.

“I really like being a senior teacher, because they’re ready,” Jenkins said. “To see the growth, as long as it’s something, is really rewarding. There’s a quote, ‘To teach is to touch a life forever,’ [showing that the students] impact us too. The changes we see in our students reflect the changes in ourselves.”