Saying Goodbye to the Classroom
I didn’t know it at the time, but I recently taught my last group of learners.
A couple of weeks after we dismissed for the year, I took a new job in my school district. Instead of a classroom teacher, I will be a Digital Learning Coach, supporting teachers in technology integration in their classrooms.
Believe me when I say I did not end the school year with any intention of leaving the classroom. I had not even the slightest inkling that when I told my last group of kids to have a good summer! and come visit me next year! that they wouldn’t be able to. Not in C223, at least. I left the school year looking forward to a summer of intense planning for another incredible group of kids - my tenth group of kids, in fact.
But if I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that sometimes you’ve got to roll where the wave takes you. And this year’s wave was a big one.
So as I have been coming to grips with what leaving the classroom means, I think a lot about how I’ve spent my nine years in the classroom, and how those nine years - and nine groups of kids - have shaped me.
I think about my first years of teaching, when I was the definition of sweating the small stuff. I worried about who had the right materials for class every day, who turned in every single assignment at the bell rather than five minutes into class, who was respectful (and who wasn’t). I think about the principal who taught me that every child has a name and a need, and how I was only beginning to learn what that really meant.
I think about my first years in this district, when I started to let go of the little things and focus instead on the bigger picture. When I was challenged to build a learner-centered environment, break down the walls of my classroom, and allow learners to construct meaning for themselves. I think about the teacher who taught me that life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it, so the perfect lesson plan will only take you so far.
I think about my last few years in the classroom, when I really became the teacher I wanted to be. When every day I asked myself: Who are the young people I’m teaching? Besides English, what am I teaching them about life? about who they are? about who they can be?
I think about this last year especially, asking myself over and over if I would have done anything differently. The truth is, of course I would’ve done things differently. But the things I come up with are mostly me sweating the small stuff (and here I thought I’d move past that!).
When I really reflect on last school year, I come up with more things I wouldn’t have changed than things I would.
I wouldn’t have changed the many, many times we paused class so that someone (sometimes me, sometimes not) could share some slightly off-topic but still completely relevant bit of wisdom. I wouldn’t have changed using the city-wide power outage as an opportunity to challenge the perspectives of my learners in third period who were stuck with me for at least 30 extra minutes. I wouldn’t have changed that I let discussions run longer than planned because we were having such great conversation. I wouldn’t have changed a single moment of time that, on paper, was wasted, because, in reality, those were the only moments that mattered.
I think a whole lot about my last day in the classroom. Would I have done anything differently on my last day as a teacher?
Per tradition, on my last day with all my kids, I read a letter to the class. In it, I told my kids that I’m proud of them and who they became over the year. I told them, one more time, that I love them. I cried. A lot. Even the sixth time I read it. This year’s group was particularly hard to say goodbye to. If I had known I was really saying goodbye to those kids and the classroom, I never would have survived it.
I also talked about the importance of finding your purpose. I shared that teaching is my calling and a teacher is who I will always be. Even though I’m not going to be in my own classroom next year, my calling has not changed. I’ll still always be a teacher. It’s just going to look a little different now, and as I sit here and write this, I know I’m ready for a new challenge.
To my spectacular sophomores of 2016-2017, know that I hear you repeating me when I say:
I’m fired up. Ready to go.
And I sure will miss you.