The Best of 2013-2014: Carpe Diem!

Like many English teachers before me, I have had a secret/notsosecret dream for my teaching career.  I wanted to be Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society.  I wanted to inspire, push kids to be their best, and be a teacher they remembered.  I wanted to be that person who made them stand on their desks and question their perspective of the world. I acknowledge this is a little egotistical and pretty idealistic.  My response to that: who better than an English teacher to wish this then?

I showed Dead Poets Society to my seniors after our unit of British Romanticism.  On the chalkboard I wrote CARPE DIEM in broad, sweeping letters and left it up there for the rest of the unit.  We discussed the poetry taught by Keating, and the character development and symbolism in the movie.  After the movie wrapped up, we had a large group discussion over the themes, Neil’s suicide, and Keating’s teaching methods.

Their final assignment was to write a poem in response at the end of the movie.  They had to read them at the end of the week, and I was extremely impressed with their connection to the theme of CARPE DIEM.  These were a special group of seniors.  They were kids that thrived under nontraditional teaching methods, and tried to connect the literature to their lives.  I taught this is April…in May I started realizing what I started.

As the weather broke, I started notice CARPE DIEM all over the school: they painted in on the rock outside the school; it was on their lips in the hallways; one kid even got a tattoo of it.  Even the kids who hated English took it up as their personal motto.  Now, this is no novel motto or idea…but for those kids in small town, Ohio…it was novel, it was revolutionary.

At the end of the quarter, I received many letters from my students calling me their Keating, thanking me for an unforgettable senior year.  It was all them, I told them…they were the ones that made their lives, these lessons extraordinary.

At the end of their final test, I was doing some last minute grading trying to block out their chatter.  Then I heard it…

“O, Captain, My Captain”

He stood on his chair, huge smile, blonde hair, CARPE DIEM tattoo.

“O, Captain, My Captain”

His whole table said in rounds.

“O, Captain, My Captain”

The entire first period stood on their chairs, looked down on their bawling English teacher with faces I’ll never forget.

This was truly an extraordinary end of the year…my teacher dream fulfilled in simply five years of teaching.  How do you bottle that?  How do you recreate that?  Should you even try?  Just take it as a singular moment of greatness?  I’ll never forget my last days at my former school, those last days with my seniors who seized the day.