Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Every New Beginning is Another New Beginning's End."

'twas the night before band camp... —photo courtesy Leann 

I am fortunate (or maybe not, if you consider the potential ramifications for tears, gnashing of teeth, etc.) that my district has no policy in effect prohibiting teachers from being "friends" with students on social media. The community in which I teach is small.  So small, that when I went to a New Year's Eve party this year, I knew everyone there, and most of them were parents of students who are, or were, on my caseload.  There's a pretty fine line between my social life and my work life.  In fact, it probably barely exists, given how many of my friends are also parents or former students.

Every summer, usually beginning the first week of August, a picture and post (see above) appears on Facebook, posted by a parent of a senior:

  "This is the last time that (insert senior name here) will (insert event here)."

After serving as the biological parent for the high school graduation of my youngest child in 2012,  I thought I was home-free.  I could go to graduation, hand out scholarships, often listen to one of my gifted kids give the valedictorian speech, attempt to sing the Alma Mater without embarrassing myself too badly, and head off to some graduation parties, all while wearing non-waterproof mascara.  That has not proven to be the case.

Given that I have known some of these kids for more than a decade, suffice it to say that they may not be biologically mine, but I share many of the emotional ties that parents do.  I've seen sparks of excitement, anger, tears, and frustration.  And every graduation becomes more emotional for me as I have to say goodbye to another group of "my kids."

The Te@chthought Blog Challenge for today:
What do you intentionally do to make sure you don't let too much time pass without having a caring conversation with all your students?

Common Core, Essential Questions, Activating Strategies, Summarizing Strategies.  None of these address the need for a caring conversation with my students.  My connection with my students and their families on social media allows for the best place for a non-threatening, caring conversation.  For example, my response to the "Last First Day of Band Camp" post, captioned above:

Susan Heydt I swear, if these seniors start playing violins about the "last time" they do everything this year, I'm gonna wamp them upside their heads. I can't handle another emotional year of goodbyes!
August 4, 2013 at 9:35pm · Like 

 In my best Chandler Bing voice, "Could I BE any more caring?"

The moms in this conversation are parents of my seniors who graduated last spring.  It was also the first graduation of my students that I was unable to attend, as I was recovering from knee surgery.  Please indulge a bit of the rest of the Facebook "conversation" regarding this topic:

Parent #1 My daughter already started the "this is the last time" statements. She is excited to finally be a senior, but is a little sad too! And dinner did not involve pancakes. It's way to early in the season for that!
August 4, 2013 at 10:17pm · Like

Susan Heydt Like waiting for January snowflakes. Please extend my threatened wamping to her as well. She has already been happiness kidnapped once, and you live too close to Parent #1 to make it impossible for me not to visit TWO of them in one trip.
August 4, 2013 at 10:19pm · Like

Parent #1 You should stop by my house Friday night for induction so you can see them all at once!
August 4, 2013 at 10:21pm · Like

Parent #2 Michele...she will show up in her pajamas...I have a first hand primary resource
August 4, 2013 at 10:26pm · Like

I can assure you, dear reader, that there are at least two people reading the above, and are crossing their legs to keep from peeing.  Yes, to us, it was that funny, even if you fail to understand why.

How do I intentionally make sure that my students know I care?  I stalk them on Facebook (if they let me -- I NEVER friend-request, but I will accept their friend requests).  I watch their body language in class and the hallway, their interactions with each other.  I read their college applications, and pick up on insecurities.  And I've known most of them long enough to have a meaningful conversation about nearly anything.  

In the last two years, I've cared enough to:
  • Organize the delivery ACC pancakes for all the new marching band members (okay, our band is small, but I still delivered them, in my pjs, on the morning of the Atlantic Coast Championships.)
  • Picked up a morose kid, drove her through a carwash, opening the sunroof during the final drying cycle, followed by a trip to Rita's Italian Ice, because she needed remediation in the Themes in Literature course she had just finished on Happiness.
  • Attended band competitions, concerts, games, matches, art exhibitions and plays.
  • Spoken to parents about how amazing their children are, and how the world will be a better place for their efforts.  I follow those conversations up with conversations with those kids.
  • And many other things that I've either forgotten, or won't admit to!
Certainly, there are tons of things that happen every day that connect teachers emotionally to their students.  For me, it is as important to have caring conversations with parents as with their children. 

This past year gave me the opportunity (which seems like an odd word -- maybe "duty" would be more appropriate), to visit a former colleague, friend, and parent of one of my students, who had been moved to hospice care, to tell her how amazing her legacy on this earth will be. 

Was it the most difficult thing I've ever done?  Not really.  It's easy to tell the truth, it's wonderful to share good news, and it's comforting to validate the work of a passionate teacher who was forced to retire earlier than planned because of the cancer ravaging her body.  The whole experience, in my mind, is still very surreal.  For as I finished expounding on the goodness of her life, her work, and her brilliant and caring daughter, she took her final breath. 

I pray my students know I care, because if I am only their teacher, then I am not enough. 

In the case of the kids above, this year they arrived at my front door, still donning caps and gowns, fresh from graduation, ready to share it with me.  You'd better believe it was a good thing I wasn't wearing mascara.

In March, 1998, Closing Time was released by Semisonic.  One of the lines in the chorus is attributed to  the philosopher, Seneca the Younger:  "every new beginning is another new beginning's end."  For years, people listening to the song assumed it was about the minutes following "last call" at the local watering hole.  (Go ahead, google the full story, or watch the video here).  

Whatever the original intent of Seneca the Younger's line, the phrase certainly has merit for every student, every senior, every parent, every person, who needs reassurances. 
Maybe, just maybe, that line is the beginning of the next caring conversation.

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