School’s Out: The Power of Goodbye

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The end of the school year inevitably brings with it many “goodbyes”. We say goodbye to the stresses of the day to day grind, the memos, drills, mid-term grading periods, inappropriate student behaviour, parent phone calls gone awry, and the plethora of administrative tasks that take over what seems like months of our lives. Soon, our exhausted glances will be met with the envy of many non-teachers who do not get the opportunity to have the summer “off”. (I rarely have my summer “off”, but that is a story for another day!)

These are the goodbyes that we look forward to, but there are also a great many goodbyes that are not so pleasant, or at the very least difficult for us. They come in the form of graduations and staff transfers/reassignments.

Change is good, right? Without change there is no growth, nor is there any chance to get nudged out of the comfort zones we often blame for our ruts and plateaus. But just because change is good for us, it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Saying “goodbye” is probably the worst part of the year because of the bittersweet feelings it stirs in us.

As the Master of Ceremonies for the graduation, this reality becomes all too real in the moments that I glance out into the sea of graduates and ask them to move their grad cap tassels from one side to the other, marking their official moment of graduation. In one evening, all that is familiar about a class of grade 12’s instantly becomes the past. In a matter of hours, they go from being my students to being members of the world at large. They’re not “our students” anymore, but a part of them always gets left behind. I get to be happy for their success, and I also leave that evening knowing that come September, some familiar faces will not be returning, and we will get another set of grade 9’s that will go through the same cycle in four years’ time. I am used to that. As bittersweet as it is, it’s what is supposed to happen.

One type of goodbye that often goes unmentioned in the education world is the one that is given to a fellow teacher or administrator. That’s supposed to be normal in our world too, isn’t it? Except it’s not because we rarely acknowledge the impact that our colleagues have on our day to day lives when we are in the trenches. Teachers and administrators understand each other because they know what goes on within those four walls called “school” each and every day. At their best, our colleagues watch our class during their prep time when we get news that a loved one is sick or dying, or collect our lesson plans for us when we have an early-morning car trouble crisis that can’t be remedied before 8:30am. At their worst, they remind us that not everyone is humble and kind and that no matter how hard you work, there will always be the ones that do nothing and then take credit for it or complain the entire time.

June brings with it a lot of “goodbye” and often a lot of change. For teachers not permanent to their school, they worry about their future and where they will land. Veterans of the profession who are retiring will be forced to make their peace with the fact that bells will no longer govern their days, and that the “quiet” of their own home can seem eerie at first. Those of us still in the middle of our careers may feel that they will simply come back to the same old situation the following September. For me, this marks the end of my time as a classroom teacher as I head into the role of vice-principal next September. There is excitement, self-reflection, a little bit of fear (the good kind!), and the reality that no matter how important any of us think we are, much of our lives fit into cardboard boxes when we reach the end of a journey – boxes of binders, books, photos, trophies, medals, old teaching resources, and a collection of mugs given to us by our students over the years. As I packed up my things in my department office and classroom, I couldn’t help but notice that when one is busy teaching every day, one doesn’t take the time often enough to step back and reflect on all of the great things we do in our classrooms. We “get through” a unit of study, and then move on. Packing up my teaching resources brought back some great memories of the simulations, activities, skits, and games I had my students do in my history, law, and economics classes. It also made me realize how quickly 15 years have passed, but it no doubt has given me closure to my time in the classroom.

For all of us, no matter where we are, there will be some “goodbyes” that will forever be etched in our hearts. That administrator who pulled you up when you had doubted your career choice, or that teaching partner down the hall whose smile you could count on when some of your students had driven you to the point of insanity. For some of us this June, the people we say “goodbye” to may have saved a career from going bust, or simply reminded us that there are still great people in this world. It will be difficult and that hug on the last day of school will weigh heavily on your heart.

But remember one thing: In September, the doors at schools around the continent will open, and a flurry of new “hellos” will enter. New friendships will be formed, careers will be launched, someone will sit in a new office for the very first time, and professional learning networks will be strengthened. The best we can do is take the time to keep those colleagues that “leave us” or that we “leave behind” in our hearts. With change comes growth, and that’s the sort of discomfort we teach our students is good for us. We’re no different than they are. In the words of Marcus Aurelius, “the obstacle becomes the way”.

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