As of this afternoon, I have graded all of my students' trimester exams, so that I can actually relax and enjoy Thanksgiving. (Well, let's hope so, anyway; we're visiting my family, which can be a dicey proposition.) It won't officially be the end of the term until I write up comments for all of my students, but that can wait until we get back. But I do think it's safe to say that I have officially survived fall term.
Of course, I survive every fall term (at least thus far!), so it's not like this is so unusual in and of itself, but this is the term in which several of us quipped regularly that our only goal was to get through the term without losing our jobs.
Do you remember my student Politics Girl, the one whose relative was running for office? Her dad (who is not the politician) tends to throw his weight around in the community, so those of us who taught her -- and especially her history teacher and I -- were a little paranoid whenever anything political came up ... which, let's face it, is the sort of things that does tend to happen in classes on rhetoric and American society and the like. And FGS teachers tend to be on the opposite end of the spectrum from Politics Girl's family, which made us feel all the more vulnerable, since a comment that seemed innocent and par for the course to us (a feminist or pro-LGBT comment, for example) might be read as political by someone with whom we shared so little common ground (although, for heaven's sake, if you don't want your daughter to hear feminist or pro-LGBT rhetoric, you really shouldn't send her to FGS!). Fortunately, the term passed, and we never heard a peep from him. Of course, he was pretty caught up in his relative's campaign, so maybe he just had other things on his plate. Or maybe our paranoia really wasn't justified after all. Who knows? I've never actually met the man, so I only know what I've read about him in the local papers.
Despite the dad's non-interference, it was pretty bad having Politics Girl in class, not because of her -- she's a nice enough kid -- but because her family pulled her out of school on a regular basis all term, with never any advance notice, I guess so that she could be fodder for publicity photos, or maybe because the whole family was on the campaign trail and so just brought her along because no one was home. Seriously, there were a couple of weeks in which she was in class only one day. Anyway, I was very tense about it all term, in part because I got really mad at FGS for just excusing all of these sudden absences without making the kid go through the regular procedures for missing school that every other kid has to go through. Very frustrating, and I don't like being pissed off at FGS.
And she did not handle those absences well, I'm afraid. She's super shy and never would come talk with me despite many invitations to do so, and she would also never request a due date extension, even when they had a paper due on election day; maybe her parents had lectured her about not asking for any special favors? So the long and the short of it is that she's getting a C+ for the term; perhaps I should wait to say that I've officially survived the term until that grade goes home and we don't get any parent complaints! But I have been covering my ass the whole term, making sure that her advisor and the head of the upper school both knew about every missed deadline, late grade, etc. that she earned, so I should be fine.
The essay that was due on election day, by the way, was a rhetorical analysis of a campaign speech or ad of the student's own choosing -- playing with fire, given who was in my class! But it's an assignment I've used before and has worked well, and I got upset about the idea of dropping the assignment because I had Politics Girl in the class, so I took the risk. I did take off the table both the presidential race and the race Political Girl's relative was in, ostensibly because these races were over-scrutinized nationally and locally, and also because those were just too dangerous waters to be wading in! And, again, I was in CYA mode and ran the assignment past both the head of the upper school and my department chair before I gave it to the students. I made it super-clear in the assignment that there was no political litmus test and that students could choose candidates they would vote for or against and that I shouldn't be able to tell those views from their analysis. In the end the assignment went quite well, I'm glad to say -- no political waves or unhappy parents or the like, so far as I could perceive, and the students analyzed senatorial and congressional and gubernatorial races from around the country and studied Democratic, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, and Green candidates, so it was all very interesting, although incredibly labor-intensive to grade. Some kids clearly didn't take enough time and care and did pretty crappy jobs with it (and earned the corresponding grade), but an equal number did fabulous work, and I'm glad I went ahead and took the risk.
In the end, I think that one of the most exhausting parts of this term -- and it was indeed exhausting! -- is that school is normally my safe haven from the things that distress me in the world, including politics, but this fall I thought about politics all the time, at school and in the classroom as well as at home. I was so very happy to have Nov. 6 come and go! I'm hoping to bid a farewell to politics -- at least of the contemporary electoral kind -- for the year.
Oh, but before I do so ... did I mention that Politics Girl's relative lost in the election? Hip hip hurrah!
And, quite frankly, Politics Girl seemed more cheerful and engaged in class in the week or so post-election than I've seen her all year, and on the last day of the term she actually raised her hand and voluntarily said something in class for the very first time. So I think it's possible that she's just as glad that the election is over as well. I sent her a quick note afterward to thank her for her comment and to promise her that when we returned after Thanksgiving for the new term, that she would have a clean slate and a fresh start. She'll have a lot of work to do to make up the groundwork that she missed out on in her many absences in the fall, but at least she'll physically be there to do the work. And she and I can both stop thinking about elections and concentrate on more interesting matters!