Monday, May 29, 2017

All the (End-of-the-School-Year) feels

Some schools are already out of session, others have another few weeks. For some teachers this is their first "end" of the school year and for others they may be giving their last lecture. As much as we are emotionally invested in our jobs, it should be no surprise that changes in it bring about changes in us. Wherever you may be on this spectrum you're probably feeling "all the feels," as they say.

An interesting, and complicated, part of our job is the number of students we interact with. While entire classes have a definite atmosphere or culture, they are each made up of many (sometimes many, many) students. Each individual has a relationship with you that is different than the others, which means your feelings as they leave your class for the last time are different than others. There are some students that you are, honestly, happy to see go. While I believe even the most difficult student deserves the chance to learn, they can be trying. In a job as taxing as teaching sometimes our patience wears thin by May/ June and we are just "done" with certain students. Others you may have really bonded with, or were particularly courteous or extra engaged in your class. Maybe you worked in an extracurricular club with them or coached a team, etc. Whatever the cause there are some students you are sad to see go. They leave your room as young adults and you may wonder "What will they be in the world? How will they make it a better place?" And then there are those you just hope make it to their first class reunion or don't end up in jail.

As grades post there is a roller coaster of emotions. Overall you're relieved you got through that pile of papers; maybe anxious that your forgot something. You're happy (perhaps even ecstatic) that that one student actually passed your class. You can be disappointed that some students obviously didn't use the study materials you spent hours making when they do worse than you think they should have. And then the emails come, or the in-person begging, asking for just one more (or ten more) points to boost their grade. You can feel guilty for saying no, you can feel annoyed at being asked, you can even feel bullied or misled when parents and students seem to have different perceptions of reality. If you catch students in acts of desperation at this time of year, like cheating on tests, you can feel betrayed and wronged. Catching students cheating on a final one year I remember actually seeing red. Sometimes it is tough making the decision to stick to your policies; but bending them for special circumstances can feel humanizing.  

If you teach the lower grade levels your students are still coming back to campus next year. Depending on your proximity to the campus quad, openness to visitors, etc. students may even stop by to visit you. You'll see them around campus and hear the familiar, "Hey Mrs. B!" shouted across the quad. If you teach seniors though, you're probably not going to see them again. Some senior teachers attend graduation, the last hurrah for those that made it through four years and on to the next stage of life. This celebration is bittersweet as you're both proud and happy for the graduating students and your part in their education as well as nostalgic for the time you've spent together. There will be photo ops and proud displays of medals and flowers and introduction to parents and family. You can be dragged around to meet this person or that person, smile here and shake a hand here. A lot of a teacher's self worth is wrapped up in students' perceptions and such an event can make you feel like you're doing a good job. You can feel accomplished as you help celebrate one of their biggest accomplishments.

Seniors aren't the only ones to leave at the end the school year though. Whether through retirement or change of jobs several teachers will leave your school each year. You may not know some of them well, but you probably wish them good luck. Retirements bring a mix of emotions like seniors. You are excited they get to relax after working for so long, you live vicariously through them as they describe their plans for their first summer "off." You tell them, "You'll miss it come August!" and wonder if you would if the roles were reversed. If you have colleagues retiring or leaving you also wonder what it will feel like when school starts up again. You may miss them, or you may be happy to see a "changing of the guard." There are some that may have stayed too long and if you hear one more "Back in the day..." story about "kids today" you swear you're walking out too. If you're nearing the end of your own career you may be trying to emotionally prepare for your "last year." You may feel financially unprepared for life without work and therefore worried like only the economy can worry you. Packing up your classroom for the last time is full of memories. You may find yourself gifting equipment or curriculum, feeling like a wise old sage imparting wisdom to younger teachers. If you're leaving for good there may also be a sense of loss for something that has made up a good portion of your life. If you just finished your first year of teaching there is an exhausted/ relieved/ happy/ sad type feeling that you survived a trial by fire. You now have experience, you have done it before and that does make a difference. Or maybe your experience is in the double digits and you're beginning to forget how long its actually been ... I have to count on my fingers sometimes.

Due to retirements, job changes or due to growth, you may be expecting new colleagues. This can be exciting: you may look forward to learning new things or to building more collaborative groups. You may be hesitant if a new teacher will be teaching one of "your" classes. You may feel your status threatened, a bit of a childish "But I don't want to share!" about your curriculum or put off if your room situation is changing as a result. The staff at a school helps set the tone for the culture at a school and there will be a shift once the new school year starts without some old teachers and with the addition of new teachers. Add to that new administrators that come through a seemingly constant revolving door and you have an excited/ worried mix of wondering what it will be like.

And your classes! New teachers are much more likely to have new-to-them preps, and potentially more than one, in their first few years. If you are teaching a new prep you may be feeling anxious or nervous about it. You could be feeling excited for the new adventure, ready to take on the challenge! Or the class you'll teaching is a class that is not your favorite and you dread it all summer. Are you teaching a class with another teacher? You could be looking forward to being part of a team, excited to see what you can build together and what you can learn from them. If you started a new-to-your-school class you may feel like a debutante! New classes can mean professional or curricular development over the summer. Your family and friends may tease you, "Aren't you supposed to be on vacation?" You may wish to side-eye them over the top of the textbooks and binders you take home. You may have a sense of martyrdom for giving up part of your summer for your "higher calling." Or you have a summer job and never feel like you're going to get the break your colleagues will.

Are you moving classrooms? This can feel like an upgrade to a penthouse suite or a downgrade to a basement office (don't forget your red Swingline). With a move often comes determination to be cleaner in the future and actually file everything when you're done with it. Or you could feel the need to minimize and purge those old overheads you know you're never actually doing to use again. You can feel sentimental as you find old student work, drawings they made you or notes they wrote you. I often feel inspired as I'm cleaning, finally seeing all the equipment on one subject at once makes me think of new ways to use them or put together pieces that have been lost. Maybe you can personalize your space more than in the past and have a sense of "home" away from home. Or sharing space may mean removing these things and you feel a loss of connection.

So let's review. As a teacher, of any level experience, the end of the school year can make you feel: happy, proud, sad, betrayed, nostalgic, relieved, anxious, happy, sentimental, annoyed, accepted, unappreciated, loved, excited, etc. So ... basically everything. Teachers can have many different emotions at the end of the school year for a variety of reasons. There is no "normal" or one certain way that you should be feeling. You may have different feelings each day as the end approaches and in the days after. Our profession is unusual in that it cycles with definite ends and beginnings. Each cycle is both the same and yet unique year to year. Be prepared for a wide range of emotions, recognize their causes and embrace them. For some reason secondary teachers are expected to be machines, especially science teachers, devoid of emotions. Forget it, you're human. Do a happy dance if you want to, grab a tissue if you need it. Summer is coming, bring it on!

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