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At the End of the School Year, This is Everything I Wish I Had Time to Tell My Outgoing Students

It seems that each year I am so busy trying to enter grades that I never have enough time to say a proper goodbye to my students, most of whom I adore.
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Publish date:
June 9, 2015
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kids, growing up, school, teachers, teaching

I have two favorite times of year each completely unrelated to weather. They are the beginning and the end of the academic year—bookmarks to another season of teaching. We are entering the end-season now and my friends and family will tell you that I am behaving more like my normal self again. I am sitting at the table for meals. I am able to truly listen to my own children and exhibit more patience than I have since October. I smile at my colleagues. Basically, I feel like some kind of professional butterfly emerging from a cocoon of data assessment, evaluations, club sponsorship, instruction, exam giving and grading.

After a passionate love affair with Netflix, and a belated series of spring cleanings—I’m looking at you, Mt. Laundry—there will be time to breathe and reflect on all that has or has not been accomplished. There will be time to restructure curriculum for existing classes and to plan for new ones. And, there will be time to think about the students who have graduated or who will move up in grade and to new teachers next year.

It seems that each year I am so busy trying to enter grades and fulfill final duties that I never have enough time to say a proper goodbye to my students, most of whom I adore. They stack their yearbooks on my desk and ask me to please write something and I do, but time necessitates that I keep it short and simple. I tend to think of what I really should have written or said days after the final bell. Here are the things I want to say to my various groups of students—things I want them to know and carry forward in their academic and life journeys.

To the hard workers — Nothing that you have done has been in vain or overlooked. You are paving the way to an informed and involved life. Work for knowledge not just grades. Work to learn information but also to connect that information to the relevant past, present and future. Thank you for being willing to fail and succeed. Thank you for trusting me to teach you.

To the slackers — I know you will land on your feet. If you aren’t trying because you have a million issues at home, please know that this time will pass. If you aren’t trying because you’re bored, speak up. Demand a challenge. If you aren’t trying because you doubt yourself—I don’t doubt you. You can do anything. Risk it.

To the rebels — Thank you for choosing me to push back against. I know you felt safe enough with me to do so. I hope that you will pick causes worth the fight in the future. Spend your energy wisely. Create new paths and choose humility more often. Goodbye and please get out.

To those who wish they were invisible — I see you. You are beautiful. You are interesting. You are so much more than these four years. Be seen and heard because you deserve to be seen and heard.

To the drama kings and queens — thank you for infusing class with spirit. Thank you for trying on new personas. It’s time to channel this creativity. Take Creative Writing! Take Drama! Take a break from your own thoughts.

To the doodlers — I know you were listening. I think your 2 point perspective has improved. I appreciate that you thought I never noticed you sneaking paper from the bin. I appreciate that you needed to process in shapes and designs. Doodle doesn’t mean dawdle.

To the angry — I won’t apologize for having high expectations. I don’t expect you to apologize for all of the situations outside of your control, but school might be something that you can control. School might be the one outcome you can determine if you are safe in other areas. Let me or another teacher help you. Use your anger to fuel your success.

To the tired — I won’t assume what caused you to feel so exhausted but I have some theories. Turn off the game console—learn to design them not just play them. Stop trying to solve the problems that aren’t yours to solve. Read yourself to sleep. Set an alarm clock and let me know if you need a snack.

To the procrastinators — I think you might read this too late. (It’s hardly ever too late) Spare yourself some stress and get to it.

To the poets — I know you have poems in the margins of your math notebooks. I want you to try to find the poetry in math so that it doesn’t cause you to delay your writing longer than it should. I speak from experience. Thank you for observing your world so carefully and for trying to make sense of it with language.

To the scientists and engineers — I am so grateful that you exist. Design a grand world as you study and save our current one. Thank you for being open and patient for those who don’t share your precision.

To the athletes — Please do your homework even during the off-season. Play even if you don’t become a pro. Learn from your teammates. Learn the lessons that the court, field and bench have to offer. Bring a book for the bus ride.

To the graduates — You will be fine. You will be splendid. Remember me or don’t. Live with intention and a thirst for knowledge. Make a life that involves helping others. Try new things and travel. Follow your heart and your passions—as long as they don’t involve anything illegal. Fly.

To my students, in general — Read for the joy of reading. Swim and pay attention to the silence beneath the surface. Listen for your true emerging selves. Thank you for another amazing year—for letting me know you and for proving wrong anyone who thinks that being a high school teacher is a thankless job. There is nothing better—though the pay should be. I am so proud of you. Wear sunscreen and your seatbelt.

To my incoming students — I can’t wait to finish my laundry and for the summer to pass so that I can meet you!

Image by Christopher Sessums, licensed under Creative Commons.