I saw one of those Facebook ads recently with a T-shirt that said, “I survived this school year,” and it had a picture of a student doing “the dab,” someone flipping a bottle, and a fidget spinner. Last week, I had the last day of my 14th year of teaching, and as I bid farewell to my students, I told them how they would be etched in my memory as the class of willing risk takers, idea generators, and of course, talkers. Their chatter, although it drove me crazy at times, was also the sound of new friendships forming, ideas swapping, and future teachers, inventors, artists, mathematicians, video game creators, writers, athletes, and designers sharing their talents with each other.
I not only survived this year’s fads of classroom distractions, I had some memorable moments because of them. In one of our final days together, some of my boys decided it was no longer risky to “bottle flip” — what could really happen to them? So after the tenth flip, I walked over, picked up the bottle, and through the grit of my teeth said, “Stop. Flipping. The. Bottle.” I then smiled and threw it in the air. As I watched the bottle float up and begin to descend toward the table, I thought… ‘Boy, it would be amazing if it landed on its bottom.’ The reaction of my students as it hit the table and stood straight up was like I had just hit a half-court shot. Their arms flew in the air, and they cheered. Thanks to those frustrating fads, my students and I had this memorable moment in one of our last days together.
The conclusion to this school year has been an extremely reflective one for me. It was during this year that I finished my term as Virginia’s 2016 State Teacher of the Year. I had numerous experiences and opportunities that caused me to change and grow as an educator, but also reevaluate my purpose. Teaching is such a unique profession. We’re always starting over, yet rarely moving up. It’s unlike any other profession. To move up means to move out. (That’s a whole other blog.)
And, we are constantly saying goodbye. Goodbye to colleagues who are moving grade levels and down the hall. Colleagues who are retiring, or moving to another school, state, career, or phase in their lives. And those students. Every year, we say goodbye to our students. Little (or big, depending on the age you teach) people who we have invested our time and energy into with the hope that we have done right by them. With the hope that they will find their passion. With the hope that they will grow up to contribute to the world. With the hope that we have done our job.
My husband always teases me about having “summers off,” which is semi-ironic because like most educators, I’ve spent almost every summer since I started teaching either working at a camp, tutoring, or attending professional conferences so that I can be a better teacher the following school year. As I said goodbye to my students, I realized, we need our summers off to emotionally recover from the loss of our class. To grieve the move of one group of students, so that we can be emotionally prepared for the next one. Because when that next class comes in September, I need to be prepared to start all over again.
To learn who they are and how to reach them.
To discover their individualities.
To find ways to help them grow as learners, and as contributing members of society.
And to be prepared for whatever fads will come our way, so that we can start over and not just survive another school year, but rather, thrive in it. So rest up this summer, and definitely have a few margaritas, because your next group of students, and their families, are counting on you to be at your best.