For many of us who work on a traditional school schedule, this is it—the last week of school. I regret that we don’t end it with all the same little traditions that used to mark the end of the year. In the past we would have Field Day and Awards Assembly. On the last day of school, classes would have picnics in the courtyards, and the teachers would all gather on the bus ramp to wave goodbye for the summer as the intercom system blasted, “Na na na na, Na na na na, Hey, hey goodbye.”
Kids may love summer vacation, but the truth is, on that last day, it’s often the teachers who love it the most!
These days, instead of Closing Ceremonies, we have sort of a staggered retreat. We do all our state mandated testing on line, so for the last three weeks kids have been missing from one class or another as they have been pulled for testing. Instruction has been sort of catch as catch can. We “incentivize” our students by offering them exemption from exams if they score Proficient, and so most of them will be through with school two days early. This new regimen is a loss of some sense of school community as well as some silliness. It’s part of the trade off that came with the “positives of verification of student learning” that accompanied our current emphasis on test outcomes.
There are fewer end-of-the-year teacher gifts of coffee mugs or apple and pencil notepaper. But there are still a lot of hugs and a lot of former students who drop by—now that they have a driver’s license. They still ask the timeless question, “Remember me?”
That “Remember me?” question runs both ways, because on my last test of the year, I ask my students, “If you were to attend my retirement party some day, what would you tell me that you remember about this class?” Sometimes it’s content knowledge, sometimes a skill, and sometimes a relationship. It’s not so much that they remember me, but that they walk away from our time together with something that was meaningful enough to stick. I have a hunger to know that I made a little dent in them.
I think that desire to make a difference is what draws people to teaching and what keeps them going. Six years ago I mentored a career switcher with a background in medical technology, cardiographic imaging and software development. As a kid in the 50’s he had loved Watch Mr. Wizard . He wanted to the share the magic and mystery of science with middle school students just like Mr. Wizard used to do on TV. He truly loves teaching, and he has turned out to be a fantastic educator. Last week he shared this student note with me:
Dear Mr. ******* I have so much to thank you for. I’ve learned so much, ever since I walked through your door for the first time. We’ve shared many laughs, many that I will never forget. It was either your psychology or just me that always made me determined to be the best I could be in your class. You have taught me so much besides science. Preparing me for life out in the big world was one of the biggest gifts I have ever received. Thank you so much for everything. Your student, ***********
A note written on a page ripped out of a spiral notebook may not seem like a big thing, so I wonder if this young man has any idea of its value. Recognition that you have touched the future by engaging the mind of the next generation is a priceless gift indeed.
It’s why we teach.
That, and, of course, summer vacation.
The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.