“What we learn with pleasure we never forget.”
I should be grading my Eportolios. Instead, I’m thinking about how I forget, every three years, how much this day means. This last day of three years with the same students. By the end of 8th grade, students are ready for high school, feeling that “too cool for school attitude.” In the weeks leading up to today, we sagely advise them that they’ll be bawling, hugging their friends and us and weeping about not wanting to leave.
I say all this, but then, I forget. I forget the full range of emotion of this day. I forget how much passes through my mind as I hug each student. I forget things that pop into my mind, and the essence of a student, who I sometimes feel like I’m just beginning to understand, that essence of them is crystal clear, and I realize that I’ll lose their particular wisdom.
Every student is a gift, and that gift is precious, and even though I get to have them for three years, it’s still ephemeral.
But it’s also forever. I can’t say how many times I’ve said, “I’ll never forget you.” The thing is, I’ll never forget who they are and who they were for our team. What they brought to this big family of ours.
And somehow I forget to remember that those kids who you don’t think you ever made a connection with, a strong one anyway, well, sometimes they’re the ones who cling tightly to you and thank you. Or, they come back for five hugs. Or they look at you in the eye and thank you.
One student, shy, reserved, brilliant, inattentive to detail, deadlines, time or space, came to ask me to sign his yearbook. I was transported to a moment I snapped at him in 7th grade. He was asking me a question about something I’d talked about and repeated, slowly and with full silence of the classroom just moments before. His question was so simple. He asked if vocabulary was due that day. I snapped at him. I’m not proud of that. I don’t believe it’s the way to talk to any human, and I immediately called him back to my desk. I sat him down and went through everything with him. I started and ended with a huge apology. I felt horrible for snapping at a kid. As teachers, we cannot forget that we’re dealing with kids. Our role modeling is our greatest impact on how they learn. Not hard deadlines, not harsh expectations about minutiae. We impact students by how we react to them, to others and to ourselves. How we respond to their learning and growth.
So, as I wrote in his yearbook, I thought of what he’d taught me, about being kind more than being right. I thought about how brilliant he was, and how I’ll never really know him (mostly because I’m not as brilliant as he is). I thought about his emails to me, as he grew and changed, and how he got better at deadlines, and not because of harshness but because of maturity and routine and compassion. And how he asked me so politely, in beautifully crafted emails for me to beg his pardon for when he was late with work.
I thought about his response, last year, when I apologized for snapping at him. He smiled, so sweetly and told me it was okay. I told him that was gracious of him, but no, it was not okay. This young man looked like the world was off his shoulders. He was used to criticism for his scatter-brained lack of attention. I gave him a gift by acknowledging his humanity.
And he gave me a bigger gift in letting me learn yet another life lesson.
It’s a gift to be a teacher, to learn from so many people and to be humbled by them.
I’d like more time with each and every one of my students. But they’re ready to move on. Yes, they cried a lot these past few days, and they’ll miss us, but they’re ready. More than ready to take on high school and beyond, and I’m happy for them.
I’m not ready to think about our fresh batch coming up. I’ll be ready in weeks, maybe sooner. And then I’ll gain more gifts and more wisdom. As one of my students said today, “you’ll start over, and you’ll love all of them. And then you’ll do it all over again.”
Pretty much sums it up, but it doesn’t sum up the impact of all of that.
Right now, there are five students still here, helping pack up teacher’s rooms. And there’s one student who is still getting all of his work done. He’s been working steadily while his peers have been melting down in tears all day. He’s working with the noise of teachers directing the work, desks banging into other desks and all the commotion of the exchange of books and boxes.
He stopped working about an hour ago, just for a bit. He wanted me to sign his yearbook.
Students wrote me amazing cards, notes, letters, expressing their thanks. So many amazing students. So many amazing minds and hearts.
Danny and I have a mantra. We say, sometimes, that “it’s just too much”. That’s what we say when we’re overcome with all the love, kindness and beauty in our world.
So, today, as expected, I hugged so many people, felt so much love and gratitude. And all of the students who have interacted with me daily, engaging and passionate in their learning, they all gave me more than I can wrap my brain around. And then there is that student who barely spoke to me, who engaged in I don’t know what. That student who was relieved when I apologized to him. He was the student who made me burst into tears when I signed his yearbook. I think I startled him. Though he smiled.
Gratitude: Being a teacher and learner
Goal: Being a better teacher and learner