Dear Graduates of 2015,
I really can’t believe that it’s been three months since you graduated, three months since you walked down the long aisle of graduation and I read your names and you walked past me, your eyes glowing with excitement, with joy, with trepidation. I still wear the halos of your hugs around my shoulders, can still hear the incredible music of your laughter.
You really have never walked away from me. I carried your pictures into my new classroom where you smile at me every day, inspire me to be better, encourage me to do more and expect more and give more. Everyday, as I walk out of my door, my eyes skim the goodwill messages you wrote to me and I mourn, a little, your absence.
But your absence is good. I need to let you go forward into your lives because that is the nature of life. This doesn’t mean that I have stopped caring about you. That’s impossible. And this doesn’t mean that the parallel lines of our life-paths have diverged. It just means that you have steered in some different directions and I will still be plodding along my path, carrying the memories that you stuffed into my rainbow-colored backpack.
I sometimes feel sorry for the new classes of students who walk into my classroom and are strangers to all my little idiosyncrasies and funny-habits which have become part of my identity and sense of self.
My darling graduates, I walked thirty tree miles down the Appalachian Trail this summer, thirty-three miles that you were with me because you were there as I dieted and trained and dreamed and talked, briefly or longly, about and you gave me advice on what to do and how to prepare. As I ascended hills and left behind little doubts and insecurities in the shallow footprints in the dirt, you were with me and told me that I “could do it.”
And I did.
I haven’t left you behind. But the next round of students have walked into my room and I’m finding myself falling in love with them much like I have loved you. Because they are so much like you. They are filled with joy and love and passion for life. They want to learn and want to absorb every word that I can toss at them, even if those words might be just silly nonsense because I want them to laugh for a few minutes before we start the learning process.
Last year, my darling graduates, you taught me about apathy and how it’s created and why students start hating school. And this year, I am putting in to place your lessons, your words of advice, all the little phrases and clauses that you gave me which helped me shape the second half of my career.
I used to think that I was going to teach until I was 62. That is in 19 years.
But this year happened and the politics of the world started to break my back despite all the reinforcement you gave to my vertebrae. And over the summer, I started to think that maybe I just needed to get to the 30 years that I needed in order to graduate. And that means that I would retire in 12 years. Not 19.
Seven years doesn’t seem like much. But, at the same time, that is a holy number, a number of completion, God’s holy number. And I can’t help but reflect on the significance of this decision. In seven years, my daughter will be in her second year of college. My son will be in his senior year of college. I will need the money but the idea of all the politics and all the external demands made me question and question and question some more about whether or not I was built for the long-haul.
Not that I had a second option in mind.
But this year has started to unfurl itself. And in the first nine days of teaching, I have found myself being spun into a cocoon of pure, unadulterated joy.
I’m not going to lie. I have a couple of students whom I would not miss leaving my classroom. Although they have done nothing overtly to make my life difficult, I can see that their desire to learn is absent and their desire to wait out time in order to arrive at graduation is stronger than their potential work-ethic.
But then I have days like today and like yesterday. Days in which I ate lunch with colleagues and the conversations were pleasant and adult and filled with discussions related to nothing more than the simplicities of life.
And I spent time with my students who were leaning out of their desks as I guided them through a poem and taught them how to navigate writing and how to peel back layers at the word level and I watched their eyes bulge and their transfixed faces fill with joy because I was teaching them something new.
I have a supervisor who trusts me and my knowledge of my content and my ability to teach my students and my “mastery” over the curriculum. I have never been called a “master” before. Many times, the concept of being trusted by authorities was merely a catch phrase used before I was told about the potential short-comings because I didn’t jump through all of the hoops.
I love my job, but hoop jumping has fatigued me. I normally spend my summers planning. But this summer, I spent my hours planning out hikes, not lesson plans. I spent hours reading books about the Appalachian Trails, not just world literature. And I found the angles of my life and learned how to love the sound of my own heart beat when it is throbbing in my neck while I run.
My dear graduates….I miss you. I miss you so much because you were so giving and so loving and so compassionate. And know that the students who have walked into my classroom and are sitting in chairs that you sort of once occupied (I am in a new classroom…but still), you are not replaced.
No love can be replaced.
New people can step into the places of my heart and stand next to you and the memories of you.
But you are still there. And you are still whispering encouragement to me, words that I will speak at a conference in the fall.
I will always love you. But the next group’s arrived.
And it’s time to share.
Mean it forever.
Your Loving Former English Teacher