The program in which I taught for twenty years at Fresno High School, the Marketing Academy, provided a family-like atmosphere for our students. The school was large, over 2500 students for most of the years I was there, sometimes 3,000, and kids got lost. Classes could be large, teachers overwhelmed, with the day spent shuffling back and forth over a large campus. The Marketing Academy, on the other hand, had small classes, with the same set of teachers, all pretty much within one hallway in one building.
The students would come to us as sophomores. Very unruly. Undisciplined. It was my job for 18 years to train the sophomores to be students. To do excellent work. To dress professionally. To behave well on field trips. It was such a hard job, and the students usually hated my efforts. They didn't want to be with the same set of students all day. They didn't want the teachers to know anything about them. Being anonymous had always worked.
By their junior year, the students had begun to mature. The real discipline problems were gone. The group began to coalesce. Friendships were forged. I did not teach the junior class, and they were pleased to be away from the rigor I would require.
Then they returned to me as seniors. Some grumbled. The junior year had hard classes but easy teachers. Grades and attendance had improved. Some had gotten summer intern jobs. The senior year was about starting one's own business. There was competition involved. More field trips. Suddenly, one day into the first quarter, someone would realize that Mrs. Zody was giving them lots of freedom in what they did. She was very laid back and relaxed about how they did their work. The deadlines were still there, but they put the pressure on themselves to perform. They competed with one another to see who could do the best, dress the best, apply for college the earliest. They had a set of standards that they called their own now. Teachers around the campus would always tell me that I had the best students on campus. I would laugh.
"Hey, Mrs. Zody," someone would ask every year, "how come you're so easy on us this year?"
"Because you are so well trained."
The students cared so much for one another. They called themselves a family. They looked out for one another. The other seniors in the school were jealous of what these kids had. I would find strangers hanging out in my classroom, using a computer.
"He's my friend, Mrs. Zody. Can't he stay here and work?"
"I wish I'd had classes like these. I should have joined the Academy."
And should there be a stranger who came in and used profanity, my students would take care of it.
"Don't be using language like that in this room. Mrs. Zody doesn't allow it."
Those were bits and pieces I would hear as the students worked. Many days, when I had instructions to give, the students would complain and say, "can we get to work now?" They knew what needed to be done and were busy getting it done, whether for marketing or for another class. They had learned to manage their time.
And then came graduation. My students received their caps and gowns early and we ironed them in class so that they would look nice for the ceremony we had just for the Marketing Academy students, about a week before what I called "Big Graduation," where all 400 graduates marched across a stage. The small ceremony was very family friendly and the students loved it. The group in the photo was my last senior class. It was a bittersweet moment for all of us.