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The Whiteboard Jungle: Classroom lesson after winter break provides reflective, inspirational thoughts

Going back to work this week reminds me of how much I still enjoy my job after 29 years of teaching.

As a teacher, there are two beginnings to one’s work year: the kickoff in August and the return in January. It is one of the things that makes teaching different from other occupations.

The two-week holiday in December and the extended layoff during summer takes adjusting to, though each has its own feel.

While the very start to school requires a reserve of energy including mental acuity in getting to know up to nearly 200 new faces and names, the second start in January feels more like getting reacquainted with old friends.

As a way to get the students refocused on their goals after New Year’s Day, I like to open with a reflective lesson, one that uses an essay by Edmund N. Carpenter II that received wide circulation when he passed away in 2008.

Published in the Wall Street Journal in 1938, Carpenter contemplates about all the experiences he wishes to have, both good and bad, before he dies.

What is remarkable about the piece is that he was only 17 years old when he wrote it, a fact that I purposely withhold from my students until the end of our discussion.

I then have the students follow Carpenter’s structure, writing about what they want to do before they graduate high school.

A majority mention getting good grades, volunteering in the community, joining clubs, attending school events, getting their driver’s licenses and that first job. And a few wish to experience boyfriend/girlfriend love for the first time.

Here are some of their thoughts.

“High school is a one-of-a-kind story that everyone makes.”

“Having a couple of friends that support you and respect you is exactly what every high school student needs in order to get through high school peacefully and easily.”

“This is where I hopefully discover myself.”

“Knowing that I worked hard and that my job as a student was well worth the late nights full of tears, stress and my Starbucks mocha chilled coffees.”

“Cherishing the moments where the only responsibility I have is to keep my room clean, and the biggest problem I face is having to write an essay.”

“I hope to forgive myself like I can forgive others, accept my flaws, and kindle sparks of passion and joy into roaring flames.”

“High school is a love letter to my youth, a final goodbye on my childhood years.”

“I want to learn to be independent and to provide for myself. I do not want to trouble my parents with having to pay for me any longer; they do not deserve that tiresome task.”

“I want to change a life; I want to know how it feels to give someone hope.”

“The fear of making a mistake is the biggest mistake of all; it is the mistake of denying oneself of a valuable life lesson that cannot be learned from books.”

“I want to accomplish something so monumental that everyone is aware of my achievement and that I somehow inspire them to set higher goals.”

“I want to make my parents proud of everything I did. Out of all my goals for high school, this is the most important and most valuable.”

“I will apologize to someone I treated poorly. I will make amends with anyone whom I neglected, insulted or hurt.”

Looking over what they wrote reminded me of why I still feel fortunate to be working with such inspirational young people. We will be in good hands.

BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of “Smart Kids, Bad Schools” and “The $100,000 Teacher.” He can be reached at www.brian-crosby.com.

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