Senioritis is a real thing.
Seniors begin to feel it the winter of their junior year, to hear them tell it. Having taught seniors for so many years, I know that February, March, and especially April, are the hardest months to pull them through.
By about March, I have to have a real “come to Jesus” moment with them about the work quality that I am receiving. I was up most of the night thinking about how I needed to do that with this group. Today, it was the cat in the sunlight. Here is my story.
I was feeling frustrated, and I didn't know where to begin, so I did what I always do. I took the scenic route.
“You know how a cat will seek out any sliver of sunlight to lie in? Do you know any cats who are content with just the sliver?” Many of them raised their hands to say that yes, in fact, their cats are content with that tiny bit of space of sunlight.
“Well, my cat has been sick recently, and so I’ve been observing her at great length, and here is what I know about her. She is never content with just a sliver of sunlight. She wants the full deal. She doesn’t want just the inch, she wants the whole mile.”
I paced a bit to make sure everyone was included, and I saw some of them glazing over, maybe thinking about their own cat, maybe imagining my cat, but probably imagining lunch, instead.
“So my cat will go for the inch, but she digs at the curtains until she can get into the windowsill. She will pull those layers of curtains down if she needs to in order to get to the sunlight.”
“Yeah, so?” I can see them wondering what the heck I mean, and what am I getting at, anyway?
So I told them.
“You see, guys, it’s only March. You aren’t done yet. You can’t be done yet. You can’t just stop because you are tired, or you’ve been at it since August, or there is so much to read and you don’t want to, or because you just want to be a little kid again, or you just want to be an adult already, or whatever it is that is going on in your head. You have to keep giving a little more.
“I chose this text because I admire and respect this author, and he worked so hard to bring you this beautiful story. I think that for you to sit there and give it just a piecemeal and scattered bit of attention isn’t fair to this story or to this author.” (We were reading “Killings” by Andre Dubus, which is pronounced, dyuh-buse) “This story takes an ordinary man and an ordinary family—your family, your sister, your brother, YOU, maybe, and makes these normal people do horrible and horrifying things. That is the brilliance of Dubus.
“I know I am passionate about this. I know that I care about the story, the author, the brilliance and absolute beauty of the storytelling. I mean, he wrote a line that says, ‘he shuddered with a sob that he kept silent in his heart.’ And that is absolute genius. How many of you have ever felt that?”
They kind of responded, some nodded, some looked up at me, others looked down at their hands on the table, or at their book, or at each other. To admit to feeling that kind of grief and pain is difficult for many 17 and 18 year olds to share.
“So anyway, when I think about this story, and I think about my cat and her desire for the sunlight, I know that I want to be like her. You should want to be like her. You should not let this story rest until it washes over you and fills you so that you can see what Dubus has done to you as a reader and as a thinker, as a citizen, in fact. Dubus is so brilliant that he has taken a normal man and a crime of passion and a premeditated murder and made it seem as if it could happen to you and it could happen in your living room. Be like my cat and dig in, guys, redeem yourselves. Be an active participant in your own learning, and don’t settle for just a simple answer. Don’t settle for the sliver of sunlight.”
Now let’s get started.
And that was how it went. I’d like to say it resulted in miracles, but I can definitely say that it did stoke some of the embers that some of the kids have been allowing to die out. I heard from several of them later in the day to say that it stayed with them. It reminded them that they were beginning to shut down, and that they needed to find a way to get it back.
Brittany told me that she appreciated that I didn’t yell at them, but I made them want to re-engage. Or she did, at any rate. Sofia felt the same. Sofia appreciated the imagery of the story and decided that she wanted to be like the cat too.
That speech was for the kids, but I think it may also have partly been for me too. If I cheerlead for them, it inspires me to work harder to give them the last few weeks of energy too. If I demand it of them, I must demand it of myself.
Thanks for reading.
Wanted: a good set of sentences to grab you from the depths of the internet. I keep trying to catch your eye.