Upper School English teacher and director of the Tickner Writing Center Patrick Hastings reflects on perceptions versus reality of teaching second semester seniors.
Senioritis. Senior slump. Snoozing across the finish line.
When the spring arrives, I find myself receiving sympathetic nods, condolences, and even expressions of genuine pity from friends and acquaintances when I tell them I teach Seniors. “Too bad,” people say. “I hope you don’t take it personally.”
“At Gilman,” I tell them, “the seniors are different.”
All year, I look forward to launching my second semester Senior English Elective. The students arrive to that first class meeting at their peak. These boys have become savvy readers, insightful thinkers, and confident writers through their years of growth in our curriculum. Furthermore, their academic priorities aren’t yet influenced by declaring a college major, so they are open to any subject catching fire in their minds. By nature of coordination with our sister schools, the students have chosen the class from among twenty-one English electives offered in the second semester, and this freedom to choose promotes investment and purposeful enthusiasm. Simply put, they want to be there.
As a teacher and intellectual, I save my passion projects for these courses, which have covered Memoirs of Expats in Paris, Poetry of Revolt, and, currently, Postmodernism. I spent last summer, with the generous support of a Gilman Faculty Grant, researching, taking online courses, and brainstorming for this new Postmodernism course, but I designed the class with cognizance of the fact that second semester seniors don’t want to be lectured to; rather, they want to put their naturally brilliant and expertly honed minds to use.
As such, I rely on student “exemplar presentations” to drive the course’s examination of Postmodernism. As I expected, these student presentations have been remarkable, covering Postmodern exemplars ranging from John Cage’s minimalist “4’33” silent musical composition to the influence of third wave feminism on the rise of heroine chic in ‘90s fashion. The discussions that follow these presentations brim with lively intelligence and the giddy joy of learning something cool and relevant from a fellow student.
Even more rewarding than the academic appeal of these courses, teaching second semester seniors allows me one last chance to enjoy the relationship with a boy I coached as a freshman, or one I taught as a sophomore, or one who has been my advisee, or the one I got to know informally during free periods in the common room outside of my office.
Teaching second semester seniors gives me the chance to say good-bye. And yes, I take it personally.