Another bunch of 8th graders graduated at the end of May. Another group of kids I met three years ago when they reported to their first day of middle school choir. They were small, mostly nervous little things--wondering what to make of the large man in the sweater vest. Above, you see them singing at graduation--they're young men and women now (not sure who the portly guy is at the music stand. It should be me, but it clearly isn't. He must have run in when I wasn't looking)
I watched them grow through the awkwardest of awkward ages. I coached them, coaxed them, and gave them demerits. I held them after class and processed their behavior. I pushed and prodded, pulled and everything else I could do to get them to sing and to keep their talking and distracting behaviors down to a mildly insane level.
I tried to be a role model, I tried to make them laugh while still trying to push them to try and excel. I tried to balance joy and rigor.
Some days they drove me to my wit's end and I wanted to curl up in a fetal position. Or go teach 1st grade. But every time this happened, someone would suddenly catch on. They'd sing a harmony line beautifully or spontaneously demonstrate self-regulating behavior. Or, I'd overhear them saying something incredibly nice. Or they'd do something amazingly thoughtful. I have the birthday crown they made for me still hung on my office door and the string of hearts they did for my birthday last year hangs above my desk.
They did good work in our choral concerts and fantastic work in the theatre program. Hearing them sing "Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog" and "Crocodile Rock" are some of the highlights of my teaching career. And "Fiddler on the Roof" and "The Wizard of Oz" were superb.
These wonderful students lived through the ups and downs of early adolescence in my classroom and theatre and I had front row seats as they grew from awkward, goofy cartoon characters to poised, accomplished, beautiful/handsome young women and men.
And now they're gone.
Through my time with them, my heart was slowly split into 56 pieces. I didn't realize it at the time because they were here with me. But now they're gone. And I feel their loss keenly.
Since the last Harry Potter movie is coming out this week, I'll draw on a HP metaphor/analogy. If you haven't read the books, you won't know about Horcruxes. A horcrux is a diabolical form of magic where an evil witch or wizard splits their soul into fragments, which allows them a form of immortality.
I've been thinking about soul-splitting lately and have decided that teaching is sort of a positive form of making a horcrux--you work and toil and labor and end up putting a little piece of yourself into your students. Or at least you hope you do.
I am glad they have grown and matured. I'm proud of them for all they've accomplished and am excited to see them spread their wings and soar out of our comfy little nest.
But, oh! Oh! It hurts to see them go. To realize I won't interact with them each day anymore. I'll miss their goofiness, giddiness, but also their kindness, their intelligence and their goodness. I'll miss their energy and laughter. Truth be told, I feel this every year. My pride in them and my affection for them is matched by the pain I feel as they leave. It's hard and every year I wonder if it's worth it.
But to give it up would be to give up the excitement of a flawless performance, the joy of reformed behavior. It would mean that my heart was whole--but much emptier.
And so I bid them farewell. I hope for them and pray for them and think about them. I follow them as best I can, cheering their successes and weeping for their trials.
And, I turn to look at the rising class--the students I've known for two years now. The students who are now the leaders of the school. Now, my focus needs to be on helping them have the best 8th grade year they can have. My task is to work with them and push them and teach them and motivate them and love them until my heart is split again into 50-something fragments.
And when they leave me next May, if it hurts, I'll know I've succeeded.
Best wishes, class of 2011! I love you.
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