The World Is Our Classroom
I hate when a teacher says, “The three things I like most about teaching are June, July and August.” It isn’t true for all of us. It surely isn’t true for me.
I’ll try not to make this a long letter, but it is hard to sum up what I’m thinking in few words. If I simply said, “I’ll miss your children,” it wouldn’t even come close to describing the complex feelings I have about this class. I guess there are teachers who breathe a sigh of relief when it is time to say good bye to their classes at the end of the school year. I’ve known teachers who sing HALLELUJIA when the last child gets into the car or bus. Some teachers count down until the 180th day comes and each day gets longer and longer because the anticipation is so great. Not me.
I’m not feeling sorry for myself. Teaching – especially here at CFI – is a great gig. I honestly don’t know any grownups who love what they do as much as I do. I never dread coming to work. I don’t have back-to-work issues on Sunday evenings or on the last days of summer break. Teaching here is where I have always longed to teach and where I plan to teach until I retire. I have been at this for a long time. Nearly as long as some of you have been alive (just guessing). I started in 1979. 33 years. None have been more satisfying than this year with your children.
Who, besides teachers, gets to hang out day after day with brilliant people who keep growing and changing, challenging one another, gaining knowledge, becoming skilled language users, mathematicians, and scientists? Who gets to spend this much quality time with people whom they love, who are working at figuring out how the world works, how to get along peacefully and kindly, who are trying to make the world a better place? Who else gets to read their favorite books to their best friends and make amazing discoveries together? In what other job is it so important to plant seeds and wonder why the roots grow down and the stem and leaves grow up or to watch breathlessly as a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis and unfolds its wings waiting for just the right moment to take off for the rest of its life? I have been so very fortunate to end up here – in this room – with your child.
You might think that by now I would have grown used to the rhythm of teaching, the coming and going of each group. I have said good bye to so many classes over the years. Maybe I’m just getting to be an old softy. Maybe it’s because I know that I have far fewer years ahead of me as a teacher than those behind me. But this class, your children, have touched me so much. As these last few weeks have sped by we have finished so many important things: the high stakes tests, our final literature study (Because of Winn-Dixie), finished out last workshop project (the character development piece), our last chapter book read aloud (Heartbeat by Sharon Creech), and our final science project (the plant experiments). We said good bye to Miss Liz, had our concert at Sparkleberry and the USC Hooding Ceremony. We recorded and sold our CDs, sent our money to Rwandan HUGS and received heartfelt gratitude from central Africa.
Beside the “big ticket” memories, we did a lot of the usual things that have become part of our routines. We kept putting the high, low and normal temperatures on the temperature graph, kept trying to increase our scores for the multiplication and division tests, we kept reading and writing and playing hard on the playground and singing and reading our stories aloud. At the end of the day we had wrap-up conversations and passed the love.
I really don’t know what the children will remember from all of the time we have spent together. I remember so very little about my third grade teacher, Mrs. Albert, at Saints Peter and Paul Elementary School. She had shiny red hair and soft hands. She didn’t holler as some of my early teachers did. She had beautiful cursive handwriting. That’s about it. Years from now, will my students remember much more than that about me?
Surely they’ll remember how to multiply, divide, to write in cursive, to create setting when they write a story, and to make their characters real and believable. They’ll probably remember some specific information about animals, the H. L. Hunley, and maybe even some of the books we shared. But what I want them to remember is that they were listened to and cared about. I want them to know that their teacher wanted to do his best, although he made some mistakes. I want them to remember the hugs, fist bumps, handshakes and high fives. I want them to remember that we laughed out loud in here, that we sang songs in full voice. I want them to remember simply that they were loved.
We’ll spend some time together as they move to fourth grade. Maybe we’ll get our classes together and sing songs. We’ll see each other in the cafeteria, on the playground and in the great room. But it won’t be the same. They’ll grow up. They’ll make other strong attachments. They’ll become the wonderful grownups they are destined to be. But when they look back on the time we shared in this room, I want them to smile. If that happens, then I will have done my real job.
I have said thank you for so many things over these two years. The biggest thank you I can make is that you have allowed me to be an important part of your precious child’s life for these two formative years. For that, I can never thank you enough. They have changed me. I don’t want this letter to be a Hallmark Card, someone else’s sentiments with my signature on it, but I found this poem a few years ago. It sums up what I am feeling.
Have a wonderful summer. In love and friendship, Tim
A quiet tension fills the room
On this last day of school.
I expected exuberance and rowdiness,
But that came yesterday,
When there was still one day to go.
Today the children are disturbingly subdued.
I am embarrassed at my own emotions;
I cannot look at the children directly.
The room is so blank
Our desks are cleaned out.
The last traces of the party have been swept away.
The charts and posters are down for the summer.
So now we sit quietly,
Too wrought even for songs and games
And we wait for the bus to come.
I expect to see these children again, of course,
But it won’t be the same.
They know it,
And I know it.
The will come around to see me,
Jealous of the new class,
And I will look at a room of little strangers
And miss the familiar faces.
The strangers will become friends.
But every class is different and special;
No new group of children will ever take the place
Of the one leaving me today.