Doesn’t the phrase ‘end of term’ have a lovely ring to it..!
‘End of term’ is also an interesting phrase because it captures the sense of an ending of relationships too – the one we end with our pupils and students when we let them go.
My second year in teaching was spectacularly successful – thank goodness – because my first had been spectacularly disastrous. After a tortuous first year which had been liberally punctuated with endless struggles with challenging kids,weekdays that dragged on and weekends that passed in a flash, colossal gaffs and monumental errors of judgment, my second year came as a great relief for me to realise I could actually do the job and on occasion, rather well it turned out…
I had had a great Year 6 class and we did some really interesting and creative work. They had learned a lot. We’d both had great fun. I was proud of myself and of them. As the end of term approached I sometimes overheard them discussing excitedly in ‘stage whispers’ the leaving presents they were planning to buy me. I felt flattered. They were telling me: “Sir, your the best teacher I’ve had!” / “I will miss you so badly!” / “I don’t want to leave your class!”
I allowed myself to feel indulged by their expressions of over-emotional gratitude.
When the last day came, I staggered in to the staff room with stacks of cards and gifts which, though greatly appreciated, I have to admit mostly ended up at the charity shop (what would you do with an ornamental ceramic shire horse the size and height of a small suitcase?). I collapsed on to the staff room sofa to enjoy a well-earned drink and toast the beginning of the summer holidays.
I began leafing through my cards. Some had written: “I’ll write to you when I’m at secondary school. You were my best teacher ever!” An experienced colleague and friend looked on admiringly and said, “They were a nice class and you did a terrific job with them. Well done.”
“Thanks” I said, “it will be really nice to see how well they get on next year at their new schools”.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Well… I think I’ll keep in touch with some of these kids – they’ve been really fantastic and look… some have said they want to stay in touch.”
She gave me a sympathetic but I could tell ultimately disapproving look.
“No…” she said gently, “let them go. You have done a great job preparing them for their next school. Let them discover the excitement and the fear of that without looking back. Then, if they want to, they will come back and see you. And even if they don’t, they won’t forget you. But for now… just them let go.”
It’s tempting to think that they really mean it when they say “You’re the best teacher I’ve ever had” and “I’d like to keep in touch” – but the fact is that we indulge ourselves if we think that is true – and even if it is true – we shouldn’t allow their genuinely mixed feelings at leaving school, or even your class for another in the same school, to confuse the future professional relationships they will forge with their new teachers.
Now, in the age of Google, Facebook etc, I get kids I taught thirty years ago finding me and contacting me to say hello and sometimes to say nice and complimentary things. That colleague of mine was right: if you do a good job, they won’t forget you.
But as any good parent will tell you… letting go requires a little bit of tough love.