26 January 2015

Letting go

Being that we are now facing the Blizzard of 2015, I thought it would be a good time to get back to Te@chThought's January Blogging Challenge.  I was going to go to the gym but I don't think anyone's going anywhere. (Good excuse, right?)

Anyhow, the prompt for today was to share a lesson that you have learned from a student.  Almost everyday, I learn something from my students.  Most of the time, it has to do with student culture, often student lingo, which is great for someone who loves language as much as I do.  Sometimes, I will use the new words in an exaggerated way to get their attention, or to make them laugh at this old guy using teenage slang or just to show that I pay attention to them (hopefully they're paying as much attention to me!).  

There are always little moments of learning each day for me but I would say that the biggest lesson I ever learned took me almost four years to learn.  I can remember it vividly.  One of my students, Nicholas, said to me, ¨It really upsets me that you don't trust me to make the right decisions.¨ Now, youŕe probably thinking, how could something that sounds so negative be such a profound learning experience?  Well, we'll need to backtrack a couple of years to Nicholas' freshman year.  

I had been teaching only two years at that point and was barely wet behind the ears.  Nicholas' class was a very special class for me. As any teacher can attest, I am sure, the first years can be dreadful and intimidating and exciting all at the same time.  Students who knew I was new tried to push every button they could. They stretched me to my limits and beyond.  It was hard not to give up some days.  Enter the graduating class of 2005.  They had put aside any prejudices they might have had in my regard.  Whatever had trickled down to the middle school was forgotten and they had formed their own opinions over time of me.  This was to be one of the first classes I would would follow for four years - from the beginning of their high school career to their end.  We would even have our last class of their last year together.  

This class and I just seemed to click so well. They were into what I was teaching.  They were respectful and they wanted to please me.  I was able to try out so many lessons with them and I learned a lot about teaching from them.  As a result of our time together, I had a very strong rapport with them.  Many of them even came on my very first overseas trip to Italy.  To say that I was close with many of them was an understatement.  We would spend a lot of time together over the years and not just in class, but also during our X-time (an extra period at the end of the day for extra help) mostly chatting about their lives.  I became more than a teacher. I was a counselor, a second parent, a friend.  

Eighth period, the last day of the school year 2005 was a very difficult one for me.  I remember this vividly as well.  I remember Matt writing on my board over and over that he would never leave. I remember writing in Kristin's yearbook and not wanting to stop because I knew it meant it would all be over.  The day. The year. My time with this class. I looked up to see Kristin in my doorway, crying.  I never imagined being so moved by students to the point of tears. Graduation day was even harder.  I just remember being so proud of this class and wanting them to go out there into the world and do great things but at the same time never leave.  

Back to that statement by Nicholas.  I knew when he said that to me, not too long before the end of the year, that I had to find a way to create a healthy distance between myself and my students and not because this was a bad experience but because I had to find a way to still care about my students, help them in any way I could, be there for them but be able to let them go when it was time.  This was difficult for me and took some time but I can say now, some ten years later, that I have been better for that experience and have been able to watch my kids graduate with joy (ok- even a stray tear at times) and let them go.

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