This has been a tough year for me, y’all.
I found myself second guessing my decision to stay in the classroom just about every single week. Little things left me frustrated even more than usual. I felt angry a lot — and dissatisfied and discouraged and sad. Moments of true inspiration were few and far between — both at school and in my professional life beyond school. Nothing seemed to come easy.
And then, yesterday happened.
It was our last day of school and the eighth graders were having their graduation ceremony. It’s a moment of celebration for them — another rite of passage marking the end of three years in our care.
As a sixth grade teacher, though, I never get the chance to attend the ceremony. I’m busy with my students, celebrating in our own small way even though we will see one another again in just a few short weeks.
In some ways, missing out on the eighth grade ceremony bugs me.
There are so many students that I want to say goodbye to — kids who I’ve mentored and coached and taught in both formal and informal ways. The suggestion that the only teachers who should be present are those who taught our kids last — instead of those who have known our kids for the longest — just feels silly to me.
But the kids that I am the closest to always seem to find me — and no matter what I’m in the middle of, I drop everything to connect one last time.
That’s what happened in the middle of our sixth grade Quiz Bowl, when Jacob, James and Thomas* — triplets that I’ve grown connected to over the years — showed up in the media center.
The minute I saw them, I knew that I was going to struggle to say goodbye. Each of them has impressed me and made me smile time and again over the last three years. They are creative and funny and competitive and kind — unique boys with great personalities and a willingness to listen and learn and take advice. Given that they’ve stopped by darn near every day during their seventh and eighth grade years, I knew that they appreciated me — and I’ve certainly appreciated them.
We talked for a few minutes — but the words were hard for all of us to get out. We found a way to smile for pictures — but it was in between wiping away more tears than any of us would be willing to admit. Watching them walk away for the last time felt like a loss.
But instead, that single moment was a huge win.
Those tears — which came quickly and caught us off-guard — were proof that the time we spent together mattered.
And those tears reminded me that I’m not in this position for the pension or the summer vacation or because I am passionate about teaching science. To be honest, the pension will be nice if I can live long enough to earn it, the summer vacation doesn’t exist given that I have to work multiple jobs to pay the bills, and most of the kids in my class will forget most of the science I teach them before they even start seventh grade.
I teach because I love knowing that I can make a difference in the lives of kids. There’s nothing more rewarding than that. And powerful goodbyes on the last day of school are the evidence that I needed that the daily grind of teaching is totally worth it.
(*Not their real names, y’all. )
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