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Lessons From The Dance Floor

Prom has been an important topic of conversation for some students since our first graduating class entered our school three and a half years ago. It’s been on the minds of many more of these students, now seniors, since fall. Daily discussions of the event began as soon as we returned from spring break in April.

Last Tuesday, was “A Night to Remember” — our school’s first senior prom, a thoroughly planned and coordinated affair. I was in attendance, and found myself unexpectedly moved at the sight of our soon-to-be-graduates decked out in color-coordinated suits and dresses.

They’d watched it on “Glee” and seen it in the movies — now they were there. If a school’s first report card marks the transition from being a new, small school to just a small school (no longer new) for teachers and administrators, prom was that rite of passage for students. A student later shared with my principal, “I actually felt like I was in a movie.”

I was frustrated in the weeks leading up to prom. There were too many conversations about what to wear and whom to go with, and not enough college considerations for my liking. The problems that needed to solved around prom and other senior activities like senior trip seemed miniscule in comparison to other issues that needed to be addressed — graduation requirements, financial aid applications, college selections.

I have different priorities than my students. I should. I’m the adult; they’re adolescents. I’m an educator and their custodian. While I might have a great deal of affinity for my seniors, this is their senior year. What matters most to them might not matter most to me. I even feel uncomfortable generalizing about what all seniors care about, because the truth of the matter is that even some of the students couldn’t care less about prom. But what’s most important to my students, has to be important for me as well.

Differing priorities are an important tension within schools, as schools aren’t places with a singular function. They are spaces for learning, and they are spaces for being together. They are forums for constituencies with different priorities to reconcile and compromise. We learn how to understand our differences and unify our intersections.

This is the moment that swept over me on Tuesday. In between the Electric Slide and Cupid Shuffle, as I shared the dance floor with students and colleagues, each looking a bit fancier than they normally do, I found myself caught in that space of being together — a shared priority of enjoying the moment and celebrating how far we’ve each come.

An early congratulations to all students that will be graduating in the coming weeks, and to all those adults that joined them along the way.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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