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, problem/helicopter parents, and the plethora of administrative tasks that seem to 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.

This year, I’ve been asked to be the Master of Ceremonies for the 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 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 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.

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 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. But 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, and perhaps professional learning networks will be strengthened. The best we can do is take the time to keep those colleagues that “leave us” in our hearts and meet up for coffee to catch up. 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.

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