Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The End of May

My Memorial Day weekend generally contains two major features. One feature is the actual honoring of Memorial Day. Here's how I finished up my morning yesterday.

This is the park in my small town. On the left is a the Civil War Monument, one of the first couple put up in Pennsylvania. The large building in the back is our County Courthouse. And on the right, our band stand, where I have played summer concerts with our 161-year-old town band for almost fifty years. That band of course marched in the parade today; you can see a few members in our faux Union Army uniforms in this shot. Some are people I graduated from high school with, and others are former students. When I say I live and teach ins some of postcard small town, I am not kidding.

My other activity for the weekend is grading papers. This year finals were last week, and this weekend I graded all the final papers, final essays, final tests, and final Hey-Mr-Greene-is-it-too-late-to-turn-this-in? work. It's a big deal for me, partly because it's just a big mountain of paperwork and grading, but also because in reading through those last major efforts, I see who really pulled some things together, and who I perhaps failed to open up.

On the list of Things They Don't Really Tell You About Teaching, or the list of Ways This Job Is Different From Many Others is the part that is driven home this time of year, every year-- that every year of teaching has an end. We meet a new batch of students, we pick apart their strengths and weaknesses, figure out what makes them tick (the better to motivate them), we work to build them up, and then, hopefully, we look to see what strides and changes and growth they have developed by the end of the year.

And then we say goodbye.

It's like working in an office where every year every person who works there is fired or promoted or leaves to work at a new company. Every person except you.

These last weeks are often like school redux, gathering together stripped of the notion that we'll be at this for a while, that we have lots of time left to figure some things out. Routines fall away, culminating projects consume time, and the necessities of paperwork and report card processing dictate that "this could affect your grade" is no longer part of the landscape.The moment when they will no longer be your students is close enough to touch.

This can be an awesome time of year, or a terrible one. It's the time when as a teacher you either realize that you managed to craft a beautiful roomful of learning this year, and you and your students can all feel pretty good about it. It can also be the time when it comes slamming home just how much you came up short. It's point where your students sprint across the finish line powered by sheer glowing joy, or they drag across it, barely scraping forward.

And no matter what, it's a time when it's all over.

You've done what you can do. They are who they are, and in these last great days you can hope to see some of that. It's times like the end of May that make me laugh at the folks who try to measure Days of Learning. I don't know how you would ever measure a May 30th, and I really don't know how you would stack that up beside a September 4th. They're just different days.

Graduation for my school is coming up this Sunday. Weather permitting, the students will walk across that same stage in the picture above, surrounded by 150 years of history and under a canopy of cool green. After they get their diplomas, they'll disperse, run to their families, walk out into the world. They will never be together like this again. I will never see some of them ever again. And in three months or so, I'll start over again from scratch.

The park is about five blocks away from my house, so after Memorial Day programs and band concerts and graduation, I walk home, through tree-lined sidewalks like this one. In the fall, they'll be a range of golds and browns, and that will start a new year as well. But for right now, it's the last days of May.

1 comment:

  1. "It's like working in an office where every year every person who works there is fired or promoted or leaves to work at a new company. Every person except you."

    I thought about this, as I do every year, while attending graduation parties this weekend. I've spent one to three hours a day for at least a semester for the last 3 years with some of these kids and gotten to know them pretty well. Some, I really care about on a personal level. Love isn't really too strong a word in a few cases. And every year they go away. After 23 years of this routine, I know from experience that 95 times out of 100, I will give them that last hug or handshake, walk back to my car, drive away from the party and never see them again. As I watch them surrounded by the family and friends that make up their real lives, it's humbling to be reminded again that for all the work I have put into their education, I am only a bit player in the story of their lives, and next year I start a new supporting role in a whole new batch of lives.