Expectations of Excellence

Posted on September 1, 2015

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Yesterday, Jake, a former student who is now a senior at University of Michigan, came to my classroom with his mom to introduce me to his little sister, who will be in my Freshman English class next week. I was delighted to meet her, and I am looking forward to working with her. Seeing Jake again was a delight, and it reminded me of a special memory.

In January 2014, Jake remarked on my personal Facebook page, where I was posting in celebration of my 20 year anniversary at AHS:  “I can remember the very first time you saw one of my drawings in Mythology and how happy I was to see your reaction to it. I had never made someone that happy with a cartoon before.”

He was a Freshman when he took Mythology class, and I remember how I looked forward to his written assignments, which always include an illustration–because it’s Mythology and myths inspire art. I would put his assignment on the bottom of the pile, a special treat to finish with, because I knew I’d delight in his writing and especially, his illustrations. I don’t know exactly what influence I had on Jake as a teacher. He was a quiet student, so we didn’t have that many conversations, but through my written comments on his assignments, I let him know that I cared about him and was interested in supporting his interests. I remember fondly the email I got from Jake at the end of his senior year:

5/4/12

I hope you don’t think this is creepy or anything. I heard you wanted to be Marge Simpson once, and I figured I would whip something up for you 🙂 I hope you like it.

Sincerely,

J

(P.S. The photo of you was stolen from the yearbook database. Just in case you were curious.)

He had attached this photograph:

Marge eddy

I was delighted and laughed with glee! My desire to be “made into Marge” went all the way back to 1997, when a former student and artist, Nick, photo-shopped the principal’s face onto Yoda’s picture as a senior prank. When I saw it, I asked him to “make me Marge Simpson. I want that hair!” He said he would, but…life moved on and it didn’t happen. Nick earned his art degree at Siena Heights University and became an amazing painter. Later, he became my partner in a musical duo, and we sang together for around a decade, but he NEVER did “make me Marge.”

Nick became substitute teacher at AHS and sometimes subbed for my English classes, although he made the greatest impact on art students, including Jake. Over the years, when Nick would arrive at the classroom to take over for me, we would act out a little drama. (He had been my student in Drama class when he was in high school.) I would “complain” to the students how “disappointed” I was in him for never “making me Marge,” and I would pretend that I was nursing a years-long wound because of it. Nick would pretend to be angry about it and petulantly tell me to “get over it. Move on.” It was all in fun, a little drama we enacted for the entertainment of the students. Jake stored that bit of information away, and when he graduated, he made my dream come true at last: after 15 years, I was finally Marge! I couldn’t wait to use this treasure as my profile picture on my teacher Facebook page (Mizeddy), where I post things for my students.

As I said, Jake is now a senior at University of Michigan, and he’s considering what to do for his senior thesis project–which will be art and writing. I’m standing by to help in any way I can. Perhaps he’ll need an editor. I can do that. We’ll see. I’m still interested in helping him learn and grow. That sense of commitment to my students doesn’t just evaporate at graduation.

I am also standing by to help his sister in any way I can. I don’t know what she will be interested in, but I’m going to do what I can to make the course interesting and to be an advocate for her. I hope that she–and all my students–will feel that same sense of affirmation that Jake felt, that I know who they are and what matters to them, and it matters to me, too. I want to live up to the expectations my former students have of me for my current students. I hope I can. I’ll certainly try. I’ll meet them all in one week. Go, Maples!

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