Today was our "interview day": from 9:00-11:00, all 150 members of the eleventh grade were interviewed by potential employers for the four-week internships they will undertake in May-June. As you can imagine, the school was buzzing. In my classroom and my teaching partner's classroom (which - by tremendous good fortune - were the only eleventh grade classrooms not being used for interviews) students were doing last-minute research into the companies that were interviewing them, perfecting and printing their résumés and cover letters, and asking each other interview questions.* In the halls, students (dressed to the nines, of course) were walking to their interviews, or sitting outside classrooms waiting to be called.
Now, things did not run entirely smoothly: the schedule shifted dramatically overnight due to changes made by the organizations that were coming, so some students arrived at school to discover that they were being interviewed by different companies (sometimes in different fields) from the ones they had prepared for. Some interviewers were trying to leave early, and calling students in over a half hour ahead of schedule. Others did not show up until hours after they were scheduled (or at all). Here's the thing: the students took it all in stride. When they needed to, they rewrote cover letters to suit their new companies and reprinted them, the halls were calm all morning despite being criss-crossed by adrenaline-fueled kids clutching their résumés, and students kept it together after they were finished, even though they were buzzing so much that - to give one example - I conducted one informal debrief with a student while the person next to her literally spun in circles in order to shake off her extra energy.
That was the morning, and it was amazing.
In the afternoon, we decided to do an hour of humanities and an hour of biology. We'd devoted all of Monday to preparing for interviews, half hour students will be gone tomorrow on a trip to San Francisco for College Day, on Thursday we'll all be gone for College Day, and it's a four-day weekend. And there are subject-specific things we need to do. For example, my students finished reading The Fault in Our Stars over the weekend. I hadn't realized how brief this week would be when I scheduled this, but today is the only chance we had to talk about the book until next Tuesday, a full seven days from now.
During the afternoon, the students were not especially focused. Of course, there were lots of reasons for this: they were exhausted, half of them were departing for San Francisco either in the afternoon or at midnight, we hadn't discussed the book on Monday so it wasn't fresh in their minds, and my discussion plan was sub-awesome. I know all that. But no matter what, there's no way that lesson would have engaged students like they were engaged this morning, despite the fact that the sum total of guidance they received from me was a single Google slide with seven tasks on it.
What made the morning magical was authentic purpose.
The students really, really cared about these interviews. Internship is a big deal, and they know it. Last Friday they did "speed dating" with 12th graders to find out about the internships they did last year. Everything they were doing had an authentic purpose. The afternoon had a purpose - I really wanted them to develop a richer understanding of The Fault in Our Stars and, via that (let's be honest about my hopes) their own lives, their place in the world, and what it means to live a good life) (you can see the blog here - I think their insights have been awesome). But even for students who had a lot to say about the book, there was no authentic purpose like walking on to an interview with a stranger who might offer them a job that could, potentially, show them the career they want to pursue.
A constant struggle for me is how to combine the sense of authentic purpose that we had this morning (which invariably comes with a certain amount of tunnel-vision as students keep their eyes in the prize) with rich, and sometimes meandering engagement with big, often abstract questions of the sort that we tackle when we engage with literature.