Today was the last day of the 2013 school year. The last few weeks have been incredibly busy, the pack up and clean up and ongoing organisation for next year has gone on for weeks. Teachers were tired, students were tired. Everybody knew it was almost the end of the year. The walls in my school in the past few days have become bare and bleak. The classrooms no longer looked like classrooms but simple, empty and boring rooms. I didn’t like it. Of course, I know, it had to be done to get ready for next year, where we can splash colour on the walls again and create learning spaces that are vibrant, comfortable and welcoming for our 2014 students.
The last week has been one of mixed emotions. For the last two years I have taught years five and six. I was lucky enough to have some of the same students for both years. It all started last week with the presentations of our Grade Six Graduation certificates and Scholarship award winners being presented at our fortnightly school assembly. I am already and naturally emotional person, it doesn’t take much for the tears to start rolling- many a time I have cried over a silly TV commercial. But this was different. Watching as the students I have taught were congratulated and celebrated for doing, being and becoming all that I have hoped for them as a teacher was quite overwhelming. Like any teacher- I want my students to learn, I want them to improve academically, lead by example and be role models. But this just isn’t enough. I want my students to be excited by learning, to be inspired by what they can accomplish, to know that they can make a difference in the world, to know that I care about them and believe in them and know that they will succeed. I want my students to always wonder, to never settle for anything but the best, to always ask questions, to challenge for what they believe in. I want my students to be mature, responsible leaders of the school and set an example for future school leaders. But most of all, I want them to be happy. Happy to have to come to school everyday and happy to know that I will do my very best for them- no matter what.
Sometimes it is hard to tell if students really know or appreciate this- they are kids after all, how am I to know what they are thinking? After everything I do and say, I wonder if they really take it in. Then I have substitute teachers tell me that they will only cover Years 5/6 at my school because the students are so wonderful. Ok now I know I am on the right track. Then I watch their behaviour change as they get that little bit older and the temptation of becoming a ‘cool kid’ that everybody loves rears its head and they begin to make some not so good choices. But then, one or two quiet and honest conversations and it doesn’t take much to get them on track, because I believe in them and I will not give up. So I say to myself, obviously I have done something right. I watch them graduate and receive some scholarships, I watch the looks on their faces, the surprise, the pride, I glance at their parents and know that yes, I think I have done an ok job.
Today- I said goodbye. It was a happy goodbye to my year five students, who I know I will see next year and be able to watch them progress even further, both as students and as individuals. But saying goodbye to those year six students was hard and I haven’t been able to shake my somber mood all afternoon. Not hard because they are leaving and going to high school- I am excited for them. Hard and sad because I am so overwhelmingly proud of them and all they have accomplished- the little people they have grown into. I am proud of the way they respect and encourage each other and hope that one day they will remember me as someone who cared about them, believed in them and challenged them to always be better- so much- that I cried like a baby on their last day of Primary School!
Every passionate teacher has doubts- How do I know if this is my best? I wonder if they really understood that lesson? I hope they don’t go home and say that school is boring. I wonder if they think about some of the amazing things we do? And then I receive little notes and cards from my students in the last week of school and all of that doubt and wonder just lifts off my shoulders. I know I have done my best.
How lucky am I for these students to be able to articulate what I have been trying to do for the past two years and feel confident and comfortable enough with me to be able to share it. I especially love their inserted humour!
A couple of months ago I saw this TED Talk on YouTube- Every Kid Needs a Champion- by Rita Pierson. It is only short but I feel it delivers a very powerful message. In the video Rita talks about relationships. That no child will learn from a teacher they don’t like. The power of the human connection- true learning can not occur without positive relationships. I have to agree- if you don’t get along with your students and go above and beyond to build positive relationships with them in order to help them learn. If you don’t care about the children in your class and only focus on the academics, then you are probably in the wrong profession. Teaching is so much more than that!
So as 2013 comes to a close and 2014 is only a few days away, reflect on what you want from your students next year and how you want them to perceive you. It is never too late to make a difference.