The end of the year always gets me a bit emotional.  “Looping,” or having the students for two years or more in a row, is a tremendous blessing–one that most teachers do not get to enjoy.  The only downside is saying goodbye to them.  They become a part of you, and letting them go is like letting a piece of your own story go.

The last time I had to say goodbye to a group of students, I was feeling similar emotions, and I wanted to give them something to take with them–something representative of our time together, and so I decided to make a “magazine” with them.  In the magazine, we included past writing projects, as well as some new “shorts” on a variety of topics.  It was not only a way to celebrate our growth, but a way to celebrate the time we’d had together.

Naturally, I’ve decided to do the same thing again this time around.  It’s taken a bit of a different spin, though.  I find the most authentic and exciting projects come when the kids have a hand in the creative process.  So today, I merely pitched the idea of creating a magazine to them.  I mentioned some of the things my last class included, and so some of those similar ideas followed onto our idea chart, until one student specifically mentioned that we should include a timeline of events.

A different idea, most definitely, but I went with it.

While I wasn’t quite sure why we’d want to include a timeline, I don’t like to shoot down ideas when we’re generating them, so I added it to the list and we plodded along.  Kids mentioned that we should include significant moments, pictures, feelings, and reflections on big events, until one of my girls said:

“Ooh, Mr. France, we should make it like a story!”

Screen shot 2014-05-08 at 5.01.01 PM
Our List of Ideas

My heart sank and tears burned low in my eyes.  I looked at my kids and suddenly realized that they were so much bigger, so much more mature, and so much more incredible than they were when I met them.  They had become intricately interwoven parts of my story, and more importantly, each other’s stories.  From there, ideas poured out and excitement grew around our new project as kids started reflecting on two years of learning, bringing up fun games we’d play, and other things they enjoyed about being in our classroom. And that’s when it dawned on me…

…even though it was right in front of me the whole time.

This “magazine” would be a representation of not only reflections on learning and growing, but reflections on a dynamic story–one with lots of characters, protagonists, antagonists, rising actions, climaxes, tons of problems, solutions, and resolutions, until finally, it will come to an end.

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Because clearly, I needed a bulletin board.

And I think it’s important that we tell this story, not only because the act of reflection has been proven to help secure learned experiences, but also because reflection helps us to solidify and validate the plethora of experiences that fill our lives. It’s important that kids learn that their stories are important–that their stories are their way to validate their existence and their time in any given place.  In fact, it’s all important we do that.

So, while my students are telling their stories of the past two years, I’ll be telling mine, too.  I’ll be watching them communicate with one another and pour their hearts onto paper, and I’ll observe as the little pieces of myself that I’ve invested into them sprout, grow, and blossom, in an effort to validate all of the little moments, all of the headaches, and all of the instances of epiphany, confusion, and indifference.  I’ll be telling my stories of them to let them know how integral they’ve been to my growth as a teacher, man, and human being.

Because, whether I like it or not, soon enough, I will have to bid these significant pieces of my “story” goodbye, and personally, I’d like to reflect on them and cherish them while they’re still around.

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