The Year That Was

by Dean Mattson

I’m back! Did anyone miss me?┬áIs anyone still here?

Yesterday I finished up my 23rd year of teaching. Like most school years, it defies a neat summary. There were successes and failures, some new challenges and a lot of old routines, some forward movement and too much inertia.

Ironically my biggest success this year was also my biggest failure and which is already giving me a great deal of hope and excitement for next school year: The sixth grade media class.

At the beginning of each day, sixth graders are my school have had three choices of fine arts classes to pick from: band, orchestra and visual arts. At the beginning of last year, it was decided that a fourth option was going to be added: media. I was brought in as a support person, at least I think that was the original plan. The students were going to produce a newscast every nine weeks or so and I was going to help the students learn how to do that.

It didn’t work out. The students weren’t producing enough timely content to fill up even a short newscast, in my opinion. I also came to the conclusion that I was going to have to start being the primary decision-maker in the class or otherwise it was going to be unmanageable, but I was very slow to do that, for a lot of reasons. Part of it was that I didn’t want to step on any toes, part of it was that I didn’t have a lot of ideas for the class. It wasn’t my idea, and I didn’t have any vision for the class; as a result, I didn’t take ownership of the class until it was very late.

But still, I persevered on. Despite my reluctance, I knew that this is what our school should be doing and I was trying to figure out how to make it successful. In the process, a couple of good things happened.

First, we managed to put out a lot of content. One of my frustrations during the first three years I was technology coordinator was that me personally and we as a school collectively produced very little that people could see. This year we made over 60 videos and many others that contained audio.

Secondly, the media class became wildly popular among the fifth graders who are going to be sixth graders next year. When I gave a survey, over 50% of them picked media as their first fine arts choice. I decided to use this to my advantage and was able to set up a system where my next year’s students had to show a propensity to get things done and be enthusiastic about joining the class.

Finally, in April, I went to the media classroom at Eastwood where finally, at long last, I got inspired. I finally got a picture of what I wanted to accomplish and what directions I could take.

So I’m excited. I certainly won’t be able to blame the students – I have a great bunch. Already I’ve seen the different. At the end of the year, I started giving next year’s media students projects that the sixth grade students weren’t able to do and they came through big time.

It’s going to up to me to keep them moving forward. I’m looking forward to the challenge.