Memory is funny. I think I purposely erased all memories of teaching seniors. Thus, my current experience with seniors seems new. But, it’s not. That we keep them in school for a month, once they’ve checked out, after the college acceptances or job plans have been made, is perhaps not the most logical decision for anyone. When, finally, we reach that point–similar to what I experienced when I was leaving for college and had the argument with my grandmother over something so insignificant because, well, you have to have that fight so you can leave and then come back–then I know the end is near and it’s time for them to leave.
That leaving-time moment occurred this week. Their final reflection written, last critical reflection submitted, they rushed out the door and, I would think, we all breathed collective sighs of relief. Finally, high school was at its end for them. Finally, they were set to begin the next part of their lives and I could grade their papers and close the books on that block, at least, for me.
Yet, the following day, when they really didn’t have to be there…they came back. I actually was mystified to see them: WHY would you return after complaining miserably the whole semester about how hard the class was, how I was asking too much to require they, gasp, read at least 8 books plus Malcolm X, that I made them write, and write, and write? In their final reflections, they answered those questions: that while the number of books required was intense, they learned to love reading, or at least like it a good deal; that they finally understand how to put together an argument; that the financial literacy unit was a resounding success because since then, they ask themselves: do I want it or do I need it and have learned to save for the future…
And then there were the other young people I’ve taught as sophomores and haven’t had in my classroom since, but have seen around school. They came by with cards and cupcakes, genuinely grateful and happy. Oh, and the tears. A student stopped by to tell me she had been crying all day. My response: “Why?” I guess that was not what she wanted to hear because that exchange was texted around as “typical Dr. Parker.” But I do try to temper the sorrow with lots of joy: you made it, this is not the end, your life is set to start, go be great! And be sure you take a book, and read it. Guess that is typical me.
(Note: And I loved high school. Yup. I did. But I loved it for my friends, and the extracurriculars, and a teacher or two. But my life really started after high school, truthfully; I still love the memories and the friends, though. Forever.)
They don’t stay gone. They return, and once they’ve gotten some distance and lived a bit, it’s quite wonderful to see how they walk in the world, what decisions they make. A former student who is back after his first year of college texted me yesterday and asked if I wanted to meet for coffee, while I ran into another who is working on her nursing degree and we chatted about the exorbitant price of day care. I need to remember, too, that the trajectory is long and these snapshots of kids change quite dramatically (as I flashed back to how they were when I taught them and how mature they are now). That I was there to bear witness to some miniscule part of it is the wonder, indeed.