What we do has an impact.
The impact is not solely on students but on ourselves as well… if we can take the moment to reflect on lessons learned.
two weeks a month into summer vacation. It has taken me two weeks a month to prepare myself to write this post. There is a detox that needs to happen for me when a school year ends and while I wanted desperately to capture the thoughts and emotion from the last week of the school year, my brain would not let me sit down and write. Now, a month later, the emotion of the last week of school is memorable but not palpable and I am well rested, not stressed and tired so I am ready to write.
The last week of school is chaotic. Seniors, excited at the rite of passage, are giddy and loud and nostalgic. There is a part of me that just wants them gone. “I don’t say goodbye, I’ll see you later.” “See you at graduation.” These are my standard lines as seniors want to hug me, say goodbye, say they don’t want to leave.
However, there is a check list in front of me. Many things that have to be coordinated, stored, inventoried, thrown out, prepared and completed. I am overwhelmed by the volume of work that has to get down. So while my students are bouncy, I am working and waiting for the final bell, the final pomp and circumstance so I can be done for ten weeks. Here is a reflection on lessons learned the last day of school:
Lesson learned: Words matter
I was in the throes of some frenetic coordination and students had just received their yearbooks. “Do you have a minute to sign my book Ms. Watkins?” Honestly, part of me does not want to. Immortalized words for someone else’s memory; What do I say? Should it be the same for each student? What is meaningful? What if I really don’t want to? I sign a hundred yearbooks. Some of the quotes are the same: “enjoy the next step;” “I wish you success in all future endeavors;” “keep in touch.” Some of my comments are personalized and meaningful I can see in my student’s faces that it is important to them that I sign their books. The written word matters.
To me as well. Several students wrote beautiful hand written notes thanking me for the knowledge, energy, and hope they say they gained in my classes. Kind words, written down for my reflection. Unsolicited and heartfelt, the sincere notes can make me cry. I hope they mean what they say! But this year, there was a student who with spoken word stopped the spinning classroom during a crazy moment and reminded me that even when we are not aware, students learn. He told me my class changed his life. That he was moving confidently to the next step with an open mind, a stronger mind, and a desire to learn more. He claims he never felt that way before and that I was the reason. He told me I changed his life. What they learn is different for each one, but they do learn something.
Lesson learned: Find the joy
We find moments of joy through a school year, but joy can easily be lost in the craziness of the end of the year. Student joy at the end of the year is different than teacher joy. We miss some kids, say good riddance to others, and are incredibly proud of many. Student joy is about the completed goal: the end of another academic year on a journey promised to be rewarding. Teacher joy also comes as a result of a completed goal (I made it another year!) but it is also about taking a break. For many, teaching is a lifestyle, not just a job and sometimes we have to be reminded that there is more of our life out there. Especially the last month of school, I often sacrificed my family and myself to get things done for school. Summer break becomes part of the cycle. The joy of reclaiming part of myself.
Lesson learned: Lock the door
All my good intentions to clean up my classroom, sort through old stuff to keep and throw out, and prep to make an easier start to the next academic year are thrown out as the clock ticks down to check out time and my start of summer break. I stuff everything into cabinets, lock them up and promise I will start early in August to get organized. My responsibilities include textbook counts, monitoring other teachers during check out, and completing grading and submitting grades. There is so much to still do… but I lock it all up and pack up what I want at home and head to the door. A room that looks clean, lights out, door locked, and me and my boxes head to the car. It is Friday afternoon. It is the start of a much needed break.
Carrying a loaded box, turning off the light switch, it feels like the start of another weekend. But it is summer. I have learned more about myself as a teacher, I learned volumes about my students. I appreciate student’s statements that they believe I made an impact. But each and everyone made an impact on me as well. Locking the door of my classroom means that everything is there, everything is safe for some weeks. But yes… I’ll be back.