Thursday, May 14, 2009

Nice to Know You #15 - Graduating Seniors

Usually I use Thursdays to chronicle my experiences with athletes and pseudo-celebrities, more for myself to remember all the incredible people I’ve met over the years than to flaunt my weak inclusion into B-list Hollywood Americana. But this week, in the spirit of what I do for my other job (you know, the one that buys my groceries, pays my mortgage, and supports Amy’s nasty hot water addiction), I’m going to use this space to talk about my seniors, who graduate later this weekend.

Tuesday night was academic awards night at the high school—an event with increasingly scant attendance due to its reputation for being long and boring—which is my chance to thank publicly my three-year and four-year staffers for all their hard work over the course of their high school careers. This year I had two such kids to thank, but only the senior—my editor—showed up.

I gave her the gratitude she deserved, cracked a few jokes, people for clapped for her. It was pretty much what you’d expect from this sort of thing. But when I finished my spiel and sat back down in my cushy auditorium seat I realized that I didn’t even begin to come close to what I wanted to say. This is a young lady who donated four years of her life to helping me put together a book. Where so many of my staffers quit after a year or two in order to pursue part-time after-school employment or play sports, she stuck with it. I probably could’ve stood up and there and sung her praises for thirty minutes and still not had enough time.

And that’s just one kid. How impossible is it for teachers to tell every single student how important they are in front of an audience like that? It’s not just us who touch students’ lives, it goes the other way around. And so here I am at the end of my fifth year of teaching feeling as if I didn’t send off my seniors with the gusto they probably deserved.

For most people that don’t teach high school, the thought of spending several hours a day with hormone-driven adolescents doesn’t rank high on life’s Fun-o-meter, but something cool happens at the end of a kid’s senior year. All of a sudden you start to see who they’re going to be as adults. There are students in my classes right now that I can see as mothers and fathers. There are future nurses and mechanics and teachers and God knows what else. You can really start to see it. And compared to what these young people were as freshmen, at age 14, it’s really incredible to witness.

The really sad thing is that I miss these people when they’re gone. Thanks to Facebook I can sort of keep with a handful of them, but just the day-to-day of having enjoyable kids in class, joking and sharing knowledge and growing together—I always end up missing that, especially with the really, really amazing kids.

I said when I started teaching that I loved the idea of having a family several hundred people large, but now I realize I was being a little over-optimistic about how teaching works. Kids don’t often come back. Once in a while, sure, but for the most part they move on and forget all about you. And if they don’t forget about you, you hardly ever know. So it really is the end of an era when they graduate. It’s the last time I’ll have a personal relationship with an overwhelming majority of them.

I’ll probably spend my whole life wondering why that is, but in the meantime I’ll just be grateful to have been blessed with such wonderful seniors my first five years as a teacher, and hope that the rest of my life’s graduating classes will be just as fantastic.

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