It’s funny how after the fact, we often find the words that escaped us in the moment. It’s been about a month or so since I began my summer vacation, but I had initially reflected after graduation on the students who will be moving on. This was an interesting group as I had taught several of the boys for three years now, which is a rare experience for a teacher. The end of the year is always crazy, so I hadn’t had much time to be nostalgic or sentimental; I was just in survival mode. In fact, the last class I had with these students went by really fast, and I didn’t even give it a second thought that I didn’t give any sort of wrap up speech, no real congratulatory, closing thoughts. Nothing. But… with time to think back, I’ve been realizing some things, and processing it all. Here are some of my thoughts.
To my graduating seniors:
I cannot believe who you’ve become.
Three years ago it seems we were all different people, and honestly, we started off on the wrong foot.
You compared me to your last teacher, even saying that the circles I occasionally drew on the board were not as good as Mr. _______’s. But I’m ever an optimist, so I knew that by the end of the year, you would accept me and come to respect me as a teacher.
That didn’t happen.
And I felt like a failure.
The next year, even worse. I couldn’t tell if it was you guys or me, but I often felt like it was you. Sometimes I was right. No matter how many review games we played, or candy I gave you, or times I let you make up late work, it still seemed like you only tolerated me at best, and didn’t respect me at the worst. So I came to believe that though I was giving my all, you just didn’t respond the way that maybe a different group would have, or that I saw in my other classes.
But sometimes I was wrong.
Because I didn’t always see you. I saw difficult attitudes, but didn’t see the depression, or conflict, or temptations in your lives.
And for that, I’m sorry.
But this year, I looked forward to your class. Walking in 2nd period was exciting for me, if not for you. And maybe I didn’t always show it, but I want you to know that that’s how I felt.
I wish I could have communicated that more.
It goes to show you how often in relationships we misunderstand one another. Parents and children, husbands and wives, teachers and students.
We make judgment calls that aren’t fair, and we often assume the worst. We can’t at all imagine the true feelings inside a person, moving them to act in certain ways.
I was blown away at the end of the year when you wrote to me…
that you respected me…
that you learned from me…
Well, maybe here’s a surprise for you….
I want you to succeed.
I never wanted to give you zeroes-ever!
I meant what I said when I told you you were smarter and more capable than you give yourself credit for
That I enjoyed our banter when you all tried to guess my age or my political affiliation
That I truly, truly loved your senior presentations and had trouble picking 4 of you to present at the evening event.
That the fact that many of you still aren’t sure what you want to do doesn’t scare me or make me think of you as failures, but makes me excited to see where God takes you on the journey He has you on (yes, journey!)
Looking back, my experience teaching you has been a privilege, and if anything I have learned from you.
For me, going forward, I want my future students to know how I really feel. I find myself holding back for the sake of professionalism (which is important!) but missing opportunities to be intentional in building relationships.
I never want to judge students or let my “sometimes-disappointment” color my attitude and actions towards them. In teaching, these moments will be there. Though we would never admit it, teachers want to be “cool,” “relatable,” “inspiring,” “memorable.” Heck, it’s not much different than being in high school itself.
But just because there may be low moments, times when you want to quit, or reconsider why you never went to law school like you had wanted to-there are oftentimes glimpses of hope. Graduation is one of those moments. However, in the future, I want to be honest. I want to show love no matter what. I want to remember that you can’t redo the year, so every moment is important. I need to constantly remember the “Big Picture”, so that all the little Mondays, and Thursdays, and late nights, and 2nd periods, will make up the special moments of that big picture. And it will be beautiful.