When students are passionate about a subject, the results are astounding.

In the last two weeks of school, I’m used to working extra hard to keep students engaged, on-task, and most importantly, learning. This month has thrown me a pleasantly unexpected curve ball. Two students who are NOT in my Theater class asked if they could “sit in” during my Musical Theater unit. For some reason, despite the fact that I have 29 students, despite the fact that we meet in whatever room happens to be free, and despite the fact that this sometimes makes me crazy, I felt compelled to say, “sure, we’d love to have you.”

Here’s the rub: not only were these young ladies present in class most days, (one had study hall, the other had another academic class, but is an A student and the teacher allowed her to leave early to come to my class if her work was completed) but they actively participated, contributed to instruction, and “asked permission” to complete assignments related to our study of Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. Their culminating activity occurred today, on the last day for classes before exams, and it was a beautiful experience. (It was also an activity that they asked to be “allowed” to do.)

These talented, inspired young ladies  wanted to “compete”  in a classroom courtroom debate of sorts by writing and delivering well-crafted, researched closing arguments in the case of Erik, the “Phantom of the Opera.”  Both used information from Gaston Leroux’s original novel, the Broadway production, research on the Paris Opera House, and even quotes from The Bible.

The 29 registered members of my class were stunned. First, by the fact that these students willingly (and eagerly) chose to spend time and considerable effort completing “work” for which they would not receive a grade, in a class in which they were not enrolled. And second, by the remarkable closing arguments themselves. These were not  quickly thrown-together assignments. These closing arguments were labors of love. And it showed. And it was remarkable.

To be fair, both girls have deep-rooted passions for musical theater, and they have spent countless hours of their own time researching and experiencing musicals, especially Phantom in all of its inceptions. But I was moved by the realization of what is possible when students are ENGAGED in the subject. When projects are undertaken out of passion and love, without either the threat of or the abstract reward of a grade. What I experienced with these two remarkable young ladies during the last few weeks of this year is what I want my students to experience every day, in every learning situation for the rest of their lives. My mission is to work hard to makes these experiences happen more regularly.

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Take Attendance? Check. Give Grades? Check. You’re qualified to teach in LA.

I think of May as Star Trek Month, where weeks move at Warp Speed and suddenly, the halls are empty and the spinning in my head has reduced to the chaos of only one Tribble.

That being said, there are two more weeks of school, and that means the library will be bustling with students in a frenzy to finish collaborative World History and English research projects; create and publish French magazines; record, edit, and publish book trailers, finish reading and reporting out on the genocide memoirs they are reading on Kindles, and a slew of other end-of-year “showcases” of knowledge and creation. These are the weeks I love most, where every period is an opportunity to help students learn something new or to refine a skill they already have. Best of all, I learn a lot from them, too- The consummate educator’s quid pro quo. (Special shout out to Jordan for teaching me how to Dougie!)

Last weekend, I stood on a stage during the Senior Honors assembly and humbly accepted the Kiwanis Educator Award, an honor awarded to a male and a female teacher in our school who are  selected by our student council. When I was informed of my selection, my mind raced with a thousand reactions. From, “Why ME? There are so many more worthy teachers in this building?” to “How awesome is it that I get to somehow impact the lives of students in every grade?!”  before finally settling on, “How awesome is it that students recognize that their librarian is a Teacher.” That simple realization made me more proud than any award. So what if some of the staff have no clue what I do, the students know that I Am A Teacher.

And then I read this article about the “Librarian Trials” in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Once again, my reactions ran the gamut.  First, I was simply Stunned with disbelief. How on earth could the leaders of Any school district demonstrate such repugnant, ignorant, malicious, ridiculous, unprofessional, and completely misguided viewpoints and actions? That led to an overpowering feeling of  IncredibleVengefulManiacalAnger, which I eventually pared down to Heartbreak. Ok. Heartbreak laced with Maniacal Anger.

I can’t  help thinking that all of this could have been avoided if the “Educational Leaders” would simply pay attention. Pay attention to what students are doing and saying. Spend time with your librarians and other teachers. At the very least have some sense of what is actually going on inside your schools before you launch a public inquisition against dedicated professionals.

But the LAU District has solid ideas for what makes someone worthy of staying on as a teacher. And it has nothing to do with relationships, pedagogy, or engagement. Their criteria?

“Do you take attendance?” one attorney grilled. “Do you issue grades?”

There you have it. Jot some check marks and numbers in a grade book, and you too, could be Teacher of the Year in LA as determined by the District Attorneys- as long as you don’t dabble in information literacy, educational technology, multi-subject tutoring, or putting quality literature in the hands of young adults.