Graduation Day

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Teaching can be a thankless job.  I mean, for a year, a particular group of kids consumes you.  You worry about them at night, you show up early in the morning to make sure they have someone to help them with their homework, you agonize over ways to engage them.  They drive you crazy with their indifference (who really cares about long division) and stun you with their insight (like the one who said that the reason Kate DiCamillo didn’t have Opal’s mom-who had left years before-come back at the end of Because of Winn Dixie was that she was trying to tell us that you could be happy even if you didn’t get everything you desperately wanted.)  You spend hours trying to figure out how   to win over the angry kid in the corner who tells you school sucks (let’s face it, it often does) and how to make sure that the quiet little girl in the other corner finds at least one friend.

Yes, for that year, they are yours and they have you…your heart, your soul, your energy, your time, your life.  And then they rush off on the last day of school, whooping and howling without a backwards glance.  And you’re just glad it’s over and you clean up your classroom and go home to collapse and then work up some energy to figure out what you’re going to do differently next year to be better.

And if you’re lucky, you might see them around town and they might actually remember your name.  (to be honest, they will be more likely to recognize you than the other way around)  And if you’re really lucky a few may get in touch later, much later, to let you know how they’re doing. And when that happens, it will make your day.  It will make everything worth it.  It will be the best thing that happens that day, that month, that year.

Yesterday was graduation day for a lot of colleges.  When the phone rang late in the afternoon, I was amazed to see the caller ID..the mom of a student I had had years ago in second grade when I taught up north. He had some issues (doesn’t everyone, really?) and he saw the world in his own unique way.  And I just loved him. He had just graduated from college and she wanted to tell me thanks…that he had come so far partly because of his second grade teacher who knew this kid would be just fine with a little bit of help.

So that mom made my day yesterday.   It also reminded me that the most important thing we do as teachers is NOT teach the curriculum but teach the kids. What they remember, if they remember anything, is usually how you made them feel, how you let them know you believed in them, how you cut them slack when they needed it and demanded more when that was what they needed, how you took time to celebrate their triumphs, listen to their fears and worries (like the first grader who was upset that the tooth fairy hadn’t stopped by with a quarter.  He wondered if she was sick.  I promised I’d check on it and get back to him, called his mom at lunch time and then told him the tooth fairy hadn’t been feeling so great but was doing just fine and would be by that night).  I wasn’t just being nice to do that.  I needed him to read with me and he couldn’t concentrate.  I  mean who could focus if they thought the tooth fairy might be deathly ill?

So if I’m a teacher in my next life, I’ll do two things:  Keep the class pictures with the NAMES on them on them(so I can google them twenty years later and see if there okay)  and really connect with each kid every day (even when I’m desperate to make sure they understand long division and how to write a decent essay)

A few more days in Texas and then we’re heading for Sean and Carly’s in LA.  Can’t wait to see them. Finished up the turtle unit with Declan’s class.  Some great little fourth graders help them make clay turtles this morning.  Cute kids…cute turtles…

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8 thoughts on “Graduation Day

  1. Aha…here’s the Teacher of the Year that we all know and love!
    I think this should be required reading for new teachers, old teachers, administrators, politicians, and anyone else who’d benefit from reading about the power of “love & empathy”.

    P.S. Tell Declan his turtle is cute!
    P.P.S. I went to Long Meddowe Days yesterday, and was thrilled to see so many of my “old friends”. You are right: “it made my day”!

  2. Mary, you really captured it here!! especially the leaving without a backwards glance. it’s so true, the end always feels very anti-climactic to me. Thanks for this post.

  3. Yes! I used to long for summer and wait for vacation, but when it came, I’d be reluctant to say goodbye to the kids. When I retired, I could hardly leave the building.

  4. You capture the heart & rewards of teaching. It is about making a difference one child at a time. I loved being a teacher. This Friday I will attend senior day at the HS I retired from to wish my last group of students the best. When students know we care & believe in them, they can achieve almost anything.

  5. Sweet reading about your teaching days, Mary. I know certain other students from your “up North” days are so glad they had you as their teacher . . . and that one just finished his first year of Law School this spring.You’re the best. Barb

  6. Loved hearing about your student, and please do know there are hundreds more young men and women who you had a tremendous impact on and touched their lives forever. It certainly was my honor to work with you and watch you teach, you are truly a gifted teacher!

  7. Barbara Greenberg

    Thank you Mary for reminding us about what is really important! I taught with such gifted people in my life and am so pleased that I had the opportunity to witness their “magic” and share with them in the joy of their children’s successes. Another great post from a great lady! Barb G

  8. Wendie Highsmith

    Mary-I wish I had had more teachers like you! I hope Erin is able to identify the right school for her children.

    Wendie

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