I stood at the front door of the building today, watching each of my little ones walk to the buses. Most of them had bittersweet smiles on their faces, happy to begin summer, but as they walked to the bus, I could see the gravity of the moment was setting in for many of them. They were realizing that they were, in fact, leaving school. Just moments before, we had engaged in one of the most epic group hugs that has probably ever existed, and now, just moments later, we were dispersing, all ready to move on to the next chapter of our lives.
One by one, they passed me, giving quick hugs and simple goodbyes, and with each one, my eyes filled slightly more with hot tears. Peter looked up at me, clearly unsure of exactly how to process this moment, his eyes wide and his mouth speechless. Emily gazed upward, above her sunken eyes, red and wet with tears. I gave her a hug, lightly scratching her head to calm her down, and sent her on her way. Some hugged me and easily moved onward, seemingly unfazed by the finality of the moment, while others were just plain excited school was out.
It wasn’t long until I realized I had no more hugs to give. They were all gone–until I suddenly felt a pair of arms wrap around me from the side. I looked down at Natalie, her blonde hair sparkling in the sun, her eyes twinkling up at me, soaked with tears that overflowed down her face. She squeezed her eyes tight and didn’t say anything. I gave her a hug and rested my chin on her head, letting her know that I understood exactly how she was feeling. Just then, her best friend came up on the other side of me, looking similarly.
I sunk my body down, so that we were all at eye-level.
“You know girls,” I said, “I know that you’re sad. I’m sad, too, but you know what?”
They stared at me blankly.
“You know it’s been good when you’re this sad that you have to leave.”
They started to cry more, and so did I.
I realized I had done my job at that moment–because they didn’t want to leave.
In my mind, learning is the most important thing in the world. It is the path to knowledge, freedom, and self-awareness. In fact, I believe that, the more we read, write, and seek out knowledge and new experiences, the better we get to know the world around us and the better we get to know ourselves. When we get to know ourselves better, we increase our likelihood of being… well… happy.
My students this year found happiness in my classroom, and so did I. When you learn together, you grow together, and you become an interdependent system, greater than the sum of your respective parts, which makes it hard to leave. You become unsure that you can function without the rest of the system. We grow through this connection with others and this connection to ourselves. We form bonds that are impenetrable, because learning allows us to be vulnerable, to explore new things, and to become even bigger and better versions of ourselves–bigger and better versions than we ever imagined we could be. But the mystery and beauty of it all is that we cannot possibly do it all on our own. Through teaching and learning in a classroom of almost 30 people, we ascertain bits and pieces of the people around us, we soak in all of their good ideas, positive qualities, and unique idiosyncracies, and synthesize ourselves into something we were not before. This synthesis is a sign of growth; it’s a sign that we’re progressing.
And at the end of a school year, or in my case, at the end of a “loop,” this synthesis is overwhelming. The kids leave the classroom a different person than they were a few years prior. They feel scared; they might even feel alone. In fact, it’s impossible to imagine the future, because all you know is what you’ve been exposed to for the past two years. I know because I feel the same way.
Both times I’ve watched kids leave, I’ve walked back into the school feeling utterly alone. The lights seem dimmer, the floors less shiny, the colors on the walls less bright. It’s hard to imagine coming back in the fall, meeting a new set of kiddos, and falling in love with yet another group of kids. In fact, it’s hard to imagine doing anything differently because what you experienced was so special and unique.
But then the fall comes, and it happens all over again.
Truly, teaching is one of the best jobs in the world, not because you get to be in charge, not because you get to be a kid again, and not because you get to do fun projects. Teaching is one of the best jobs in the world because you get to grow with others. You learn unconditional love and appreciation for the strengths as well as the weaknesses of others. You learn how to take risks, and you learn that being passionate about something is way more important that finding the “right” or “best” answer.
This euphoria I experience when I teach would be remiss without these painful goodbyes. In essence, the tears that rolled down my face this afternoon were mere symbols of two years of heart and soul, two years of passion, and two years of commitment to helping my students and myself grow through connection and through inquiry.
I already miss them terribly, but I can’t wait to be able to do it all over again.