Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The End of the School Year

I am rapidly approaching the end of my fifteenth year of teaching in my district, the seventeenth year of teaching in public schools, and the nineteenth year of teaching in any school. In these past nineteen years I have learned something; the school year is a marathon, not a sprint. When May hits, it sometimes feels like that last few miles are up the steepest hill in the country.

May is exhausting.

The month of May always makes me realize that the summer “off” is truly needed to regain your sanity, catch up on sleep, and get your life back in order. My email inboxes are way past my normal comfort level of emails that are waiting for me. My house is a mess. My “to read” stack is growing by the day. The end of the year is upon us and I cannot keep up.

This time of year also fills me with a bit of despair. I worry that I haven’t done enough, taught enough, connected enough. I can only assume it is a bit like the feeling when your children go off to college, you wonder if they are ready. I look at the beautiful faces of my students and think of everything I haven’t done, haven’t gotten to, haven’t… I don’t take time to step back and appreciate what we have accomplished.

That’s why Tuesday was a gift. A friend who teaches up north asked if she could visit my classroom for a day and observe. Of course I said yes. When she was in my first ELA class, I asked my students to introduce themselves to her and share a title they’ve read this year and loved. My heart filled to the brim with their answers, so I had the second and third classes do the same thing.

It isn’t that they were spelling bindingly brilliant. It isn’t that they stood up and gave a beautiful five minute soliloquy about the benefits of reading, it was their quiet comments that filled me up:

  • The One and Only Ivan (mentioned too often to count) because it is beautiful.
  • See You at Harry’s because of the emotions it makes you feel.
  • The Maze Runner because it caught me with the non-stop action and twists.
  • Out of the Dust because of the way there weren’t many words, but there were the right ones.
  • Mark of the Dragonfly because of the beautiful characters.
  • All of the Answers because it was the first book I loved.

And on, and on, and on. Seventy-eight beautiful voices, seventy-eight recommendations. And what I noticed was this:

No one hesitated and couldn’t think of a book.

Many groaned that I would only select one.

Most students knew the title and author without having to reference anything. These were books that lived in their hearts.

When someone would mention a title, there would be whispers of agreement.

In each class I saw a student sneak out their reading notebook to record some titles on their “to read” list.

Each student spoke of a connection they had made that was beyond anything I can teach. It is personal and belongs to them.

Listening to my beautiful students I realized something. I might not have checked off every single thing I wanted to this year in regard to lessons, but I did teach the most important one, and I taught it all year long. My students have connected to books and authors. They have each found their own path and level of connection, but it is greater than when I met them in August. That is important to me.

As my friend was preparing to leave yesterday she paid me the highest compliment she could have, although she probably didn’t know it. As we hugged goodbye with students sprawled out around the room reading, she said she enjoyed being in my room. That the feeling was relaxed and you could see the relationship I had with each student. With that, she gave me a gift. That is all I can truly hope for in my year with my students. That they know they are loved and know that I want them in my room. So while May will continue to be crazy as I run uphill these last nine days, my load is lighter. A visitor to my classroom made me reflect on what I have truly taught this year and now I know, my year is complete.