The Beatles’ “Good Day Sunshine” has been playing quietly in the back of my brain ever since third and fifth periods today. My AP history students began reviewing today for the AP exam. We do a variety of things to prepare for the exam, but today we took the first half of the multiple-choice portion of an old AP exam.
Before we begin reviewing, I don’t always feel very confident…mostly in myself. Have I spent enough time teaching the students how to write well? Have I spent enough time teaching them how to think through questions when they do not know the answer or when there is no clear answer? Have they understood the major concepts? Do they remember anything I’ve taught all year? But usually, after we begin reviewing, those major fears start to abate somewhat. Today was no exception. The students did very well for a first day of review, and it made for a very good day.
But here is the thing. It was not a good day because I suddenly thought that the students would all score well. The truth is that I don’t know how the students will do come AP exam time. It’s a single test on a single day. Some students will have an off day, some will experience a bit of “brain freeze” when faced with the essay portion of the exam, and others will surpass all expectations. Besides, as I’ve written previously, my students mean so much more to me than a single score. So while I am proud of them and happy for them when they do well on the AP exam, it alone is not the goal.
No, what made it a good day was knowing in that moment that hard work does pay off for both teachers and students, that students do remember much more of what we teach them and how we teach them than we often give them (and ourselves) credit for. What made it even better was watching the students realize how much they’ve learned, how far they have come from the beginning of the year. As stressful as this time of year can be for AP teachers, I also wish that all teachers were able to experience this kind of major review of the entire year’s worth of teaching and learning rather than a single semester as is more often the case. Amidst the second-guessing and stress, it can be very affirming and exciting in its own way.