It is early spring, and like all teachers, I am gearing up for the wild ride of school days that race like two-track roller coasters starting in April through the final school bell in June. I am finishing my 29th spring of teaching, and no matter the grade or location, I’ve come to expect the spring rituals that return with the sun: outdoor recess and wide-open soccer fields of flying children, the sense of relief when the last of the testing materials are returned to the administrator, joyful dandelion bouquets that arrive in the morning, and breezy windows with sunbeams casting through that lead us to think of summer.
Spring also means change, and we know how change can be as tricky as it is inevitable. Teachers find a gentle way to greet the coming changes of spring and the end of the school year by gathering our students closer and wrapping them more tightly in the community we’ve so carefully built throughout the year. Spring means that teachers start thinking of ways to help students gently move forward and on to their next adventures as the end of the school year releases them to new opportunities.
This year’s spring will be different for me. My teaching partner for the past eight years is retiring. There. I’ve said it. I knew this day would come. Like all things bittersweet, I’ve been coming to terms with it, wondering how it would play out as the days unfold toward the finish line. Eight years of recess duty together. Approximately 1,440 lunches together talking about our students, our families, and life in between. Sighs and whys. Loud laughs and comfortable silences. Knowing how each other's sentences would end but always letting the other one speak her mind. Learning side by side and pushing past heartbreak shoulder to shoulder. Through it all, I could always count on her steadfast confidence in our teaching partnership, our shared students, and this daily magic we call our teaching lives.
This year, spring will be different for me. I am now experiencing what our students live each and every year. I am seeing the end of the school year through their eyes, when all that is familiar is about to change.
What do our students tell us? I hear the voices of students whispering behind the busyness of these spring days:
My teacher knows me better than I ever imagined. She knows my smile well enough to know when I need an arrival laugh or a silent hug or a private conversation in the hall before the day begins.
My teacher can place a book in my hands knowing it is truly going to change my reading life and in some unreasonable way . . . it is magic.
My teacher believes in me and knows that I didn’t start the fight on the bus with that fifth grader who bothers everyone, and she knows that I had to stand up to defend my little brother.
My teacher is the one person who will loudly celebrate those little learning victories that no one else seems to notice . . . even if it just remembering to put a period at the end of each sentence. She celebrates it all.
My teacher knows why I smile a bit less as my parents work out this painfully new custody arrangement that they dare to call a “visitation schedule.”
My teacher secretly slides a weekend care package of food into my backpack each Friday when nobody else is looking so I don’t need to explain.
My teacher knows me. The hard part is that now I am going to be asked to leave her and move on to a new year and a new teacher. And will they take the time to know me?
This season, I am more like my students than I realized as I consider the upcoming changes in my teaching life. I am thrilled for my teaching partner as she eases into her well-deserved and rightly earned retirement. Am I ready to let her go? Here’s why it’s hard.
We all need a place to belong without question. Although most of us are lucky enough to have this unconditional support at home, it is priceless when we find a similar circle of support in our school lives. My teaching partner helped me learn many things over the years: from new tech to self-confidence when handling a tricky parent situation, from changes in leadership to standing fast in one’s beliefs about instruction; she taught me to stand up and be heard no matter how your honesty is received. We celebrated much together and survived the conflicts only to understand each other at a more respected level. Above all, through our busiest of days, she taught me that I was a unique person capable of great things carried out in the name of children. I will carry that with me in the years ahead as a coat of arms, as a mantra more powerful than any value-added rating on my evaluations, as a sign that I am fortunate to spend my days with children in this tricky world we call school. Will I be able to find another person who helps me continue to grow?
I am a better teacher because of this partnership, yet I am feeling a sense of loss no matter how hard I try. My friend always knew the right times on those wrong days when I needed to hear kind words that let me know I was appreciated. I hope my students know how grateful I am for the talents and energy they brought to our learning community and how they made our days unique and memorable. Before the end of the year, my goal is to make sure each child knows how valued he or she is in our class family.
My friend always created a safe place for me to share my worries, wonders, and celebrations. She applauded me on the good days and stood with me on the most troubling days when most people walked past. I hope my students felt that our classroom was a place that they could feel celebrated and supported no matter the situation. I hope my students know that once my student, always my student, no matter how tall they grow or how far away they travel. My friend always anchored our teaching in our strength of friendship, so I hope my students will always find a way to belong at school. They deserve that circle of community support.
This spring I need to remember the power of community and the strength of acceptance. It will help me face the coming changes. Acceptance and change go hand in hand; as we close out the year, I encourage all of us to reach out to all of our colleagues who made a difference in our learning and teaching lives. Circling back to celebrate the strengths gives us the determination to face the finish line. Good memories seem valuable right now, so I must remember to share them aloud.