I’ve told you since the beginning of the year that this would be it for me. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I will not be returning. But like due dates that I have repeated 3 times a day for a week, it seems this time has snuck up on all of us. You came into my room as I was pulling down the posters and giving away the various spray painted stools I have collected in my nine years of teaching. You looked at me and told me it looked sad in there, that you didn’t like the reminder that I was leaving. I shrugged my shoulders and tried not to cry. I don’t like it either.
I have taught over a thousand students in my 9 years in a classroom. I have thought a lot about you all, especially in these last few months. I found myself telling stories of my past students to my present students in ways I usually do not.
I want to make sure you know that I am not quitting teaching because of you, because I find you annoying, or disrespectful, or too much to handle somehow. Being with you is the best part of this job. I hope you know I like you, even if I don’t always like you as students, if I don’t always like having to be in charge of your antics, I find you delightful as fellow human beings.
If I have taught you anything, I hope I have taught you to be kind. I know I haven’t always modeled it perfectly, but I have always found you respectful and kind; I have heard this is because you feel the same way about me. You show people how to treat you by treating them that way, I hope you have learned how much easier it is to get through this world when everyone is kind to one another.
I hope I have taught you how to listen. You only need to be in my class for about ten minutes before you know exactly what I think about practically anything, but I hope you have seen me hear you out. I hope you have seen me answer your push back and your questions honestly. I hope you have heard and understood your classmates just a little bit better in my classroom. The exposure to diversity you have in your school is a gift, but you have to unwrap that in order to receive it.
I hope you have felt heard, and learned just a little, how to speak for yourself. Some people think that I am crazy, that I give you too much control of my class when I adjust my plans to the things you tell me you want and need. I hope you have learned to advocate for yourselves, to speak up when you need something, to suggest a better way when you see one. There will be people far more intimidating than me that you will have to suggest things to, I hope you have learned those skills in my class, for when you really need them later in life. .
I hope you have learned the value of a good story. You’ve heard a lot of stories in my class, ones I tell about my life, ones you read from famous authors. I hope you connected with at least a few stories, I hope you remember them, remember what you learned from them about humanity, power, laughter, love.
And I hope you learned the value of a good apology. I don’t do everything perfectly. If you are my student you know this better than maybe anyone. I make mistakes, I lose my temper, I screw up the grade book. Remember how much more you respect me because I am willing to own up to my mistakes. Remember that if you make a mistake in public your amends must also be public. This rule has kept me out of a lot of trouble. I have too much pride to apologize to a 15 year old in front of the rest of you. But if I speak out of turn in front of a group, it isn’t fair for me to apologize privately.
I have grown up, these last years, as you have grown up right before my eyes. Scrawny freshmen from a few years ago bump me in the hallway and apologize in voices so deep I laugh with surprise. Kids from my first year find me on Facebook, graduating from college, married, living full adult lives. No one has stayed the same. We have all grown and changed and hopefully, know a little bit more than we did before. It is cliche to say, but it is true, you have taught me far more than I could ever teach you.
I hope, with my leaving, I can teach you one more thing. I hope that I can serve as a reminder that you are worth so much more than any test could tell you. I hope you will remember that if you tried your best, and listened, and learned, and tried to fit but couldn’t that it isn’t you that is broken. I hope you have learned to look critically at systems that are set up so that not everyone can win, and I hope you can demand better ways, even if it is scary, even if it costs you something. I hope you know your whole self is worthy of bringing to the table. I hope you have learned in my classroom, there are places and people that want all of you, I hope I have taught you to find those places in the world. I am learning all of this myself. I am trying, in my imperfect way, to teach you how to live as your whole self in this world. I have seen those whole selves, this world needs all of you.
PS We can break my strict no touching rule for a goodbye hug. But just this once.