On The Future of Teaching blog, I made a list of the five things I learned this year, a standard writing prompt for writers who can’t for the life of them get a word out about the whirlwind named “The End of the Year.” Every year spins out of control right around the last two weeks, and the staff, prepared for emergency landing, lock their seatbelts extra tightly and enjoy the ride. Some of us, like yours truly, put our hands up in the air and leave them up there until the ride is over. I barely remember anything other than the phrase “Come on, kid. Graduate, graduate, graduate.”
Alas, when I sat in the front row onstage, my mind swooped back and forth, past the dynamic student MC, past the awesome Stuyvestant / MIT alum, past the couple of
boring less-interesting speakers, and right to the graduates receiving their makeshift diplomas, representatives for the real ones they’ll receive on the last day. During the bluster of graduation, I tried to remain cool. Naturally, I was excited to see our choir and band perform, and mouthed the words to fun.’s “We Are Young.” During the procession of graduates, however, I shook hands and broke out a big grin, with big handshakes and hugs for my students this year.
As we started to go, I didn’t feel the need to tear up or tighten up. I walked down the stage and outside to see the plethora of proud parents, alumni, and staff gather, flashing pictures and laughing gleefully. I paced around looking for my students and to thank their parents for letting me teach their children. None of the interactions were dry; to the contrary, most of the families shared their gratitude in similar fashion. Students hugged me and promised to keep in contact. Whether they actually do doesn’t matter as much as that the sentiment is there. You forgive kids.
It wasn’t until I went back into the auditorium, at the almost empty hall that a minute ago held us in there like lobsters in a steaming pot, that the moment hit me: I actually cared a lot about these kids. My objective this year for teaching shifted for them. The pieces I wrote, the discussions I had, and the professional development I undertook had everything to do with my utmost desire for them to do well. I read more books, talk to more teachers, and let go of my personal hang-ups as a math coach for them.
Just then, my top student walked up with her father, weepy-eyed. Yep, I’m a sucker for that. This young girl would have been a blessing to have in any teacher’s class. Great work ethic, super-intelligent, and tries to excel in every category possible. She met almost every challenge I laid in front of her. She also gave me something I didn’t expect: her trust. She told me that, unlike most teachers, she actually felt like she could talk about any and everything. She’s also one of the students I made sure went to a promising high school in downtown Manhattan with one of my favorite educators at the moment. Most importantly, she became an extension of me, as did many of my other students. I shook her father’s hand and gave her one last hug.
Thank God I wore glasses because my eyes definitely teared up.
I honestly tried to keep my cool while seeing the rest of my students, but my revelation about my students made it difficult to see them. I stepped back outside eventually and just stared at the dwindling crowd. The masses had left to their dinner parties. With an uncertain future still hanging in the balance for us all, the only thing certain was that our jobs as teachers were to connect with another set of students. And make them graduate. Again.
Jose, who hasn’t made a Beatles reference in a long time …