In order to graduate, my seniors master and present their Capstone Projects
When my seniors perform their capstone projects, I know the end of my time with them is near. My heart aches at the first pang of the teacher’s version of “empty nest” syndrome, but first — if I’ve done my job well — I must see I am superfluous.
Today was that day. I had the pleasure of watching my seniors in action, presenting their Capstone Projects in front of their parents and invited guests, their fellow secondary students, and a panel of judges. I learned a lot, not just from the details they shared in their slideshows and speeches, but mostly from the way they handled the day’s mini-crises and the chaos that ensued, despite our best efforts to avert just that.
The day — like the past six months working on these projects — did not start out as a pleasure. I had asked the six students presenting projects today to arrive between 10 and 10:30 this morning; exactly one senior showed up at 10.
He faithfully helped me set up the projector and display tables and then practiced his lines while awaiting the next senior to arrive — 28 minutes later, and she wasn’t even scheduled to perform!
The others slowly dribbled in, loaded and edited slideshows on the laptop, and prepared for the big performance while I generally paced and fluttered and sent the occasional text message asking “where are you?” to students who had gone to rescue a senior whose car had broken down and didn’t arrive until five minutes before the performance time.
As the AP English teacher, one of my jobs is to lead seniors through the process of completing a project on a subject of their choice. They choose a topic of interest and don’t just research it but experience it.
Some might work for months rebuilding a motorcycle or a gun or working on a robot for competition. Others might take a short-term mission project or prepare to compete in a one-time event.
This year’s projects vary from travel journals to making aquatic robots to raising funds and awareness to save children from slavery in foreign countries. One student was learning to fly while another was learning to jump from a flying plane.
Up until last year, I got physically sick for about a week until the Capstone Projects were completed; then, I realized that these were the students’ projects and they would be what they would be. (Que sera sera, which is OK with Sara, Sara.)
I give my feedback and offer suggestions; fellow students do the same, but the rest is whatever the student chooses to do with it. And no matter how awful the final dress rehearsal may be, the seniors always seem to pull it off.
Today’s projects began with a start — as in “to react with a sudden brief involuntary movement.” I typically address the audience, giving the background for the speeches and offering some etiquette tips, before I introduce the first senior.
Instead, the principal spontaneously made a brief announcement and then simply called the first senior to the stage. He was clearly shaken, and it took him a couple of minutes to get his nerves under control, but he finished with poise and panache.
The other seniors proceeded one by one quickly leading to a planned intermission — too quickly, apparently, because the father of the next speaker wouldn’t arrive in time if we followed the program. I hunted down a sophomore who played guitar and asked him to grab some choir friends and lead the audience in a praise song.
A fellow English teacher roused her Student Government officer to make an announcement. And, most significantly, the student scheduled to go last offered to trade places with the student who was waiting on her father.
And it almost worked — until I happened to look at the back of the auditorium as that self-sacrificing student was completing his project and saw his family just walking in. They had missed it. His classmate’s father, on the other hand, missed only a couple slides of his daughter’s speech.
It’s always a learning experience for all of us. We audience members learn details about topics we’ve never known before, but as a teacher, I learned so much more.
I learned I should intervene when I can; perhaps I should have jumped up on stage after the principal and insisted on the usual routine rather than simply allow my student to take the stage. I learned I should tell parents to plan on attending the entire day’s performance, as performance times cannot be guaranteed.
I also learned just enough more about each of my seniors through their projects to know that saying goodbye in May will be even more difficult.
But I think the biggest lesson I learned was that I am superfluous. My seniors are independent and capable, flexible and able to problem-solve, willing to help a fellow classmate even when it means sacrifice, professional, poised, and ready to take the stage or make a positive difference in their world.
My stress over what I can’t control — namely what they do with their projects — is pointless. It’s on them. They know what is at stake — their grade, their pride, their privilege of the platform. And they rise to the occasion and show me I am not needed. (At least anymore!)
I wear the title “Superfluous” with pride. My job here is done. These birds will rightly leave me with an empty nest. Fly high, my seniors, fly!
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