Sunday, June 9, 2013

Saying Goodbye

One of the ways I help my students say goodbye at the end of every school year is by helping them understand what their yearbook/annual is for. The first year I taught sixth grade, I noticed that when students got their yearbooks, all they did was sign their names on one another's pages. They had no understanding about the importance of saying goodbye in writing, of sharing their thoughts on paper to mark the end of their sixth grade year, or telling their friends what they meant to them.

I also noticed that my students were always surprised how long it took me to "sign" their yearbooks because it took me awhile to write what I had to say. What I wrote to each student was specific to them, not a general statement. When they read what I'd written, it meant a great deal to them because it showed I really knew them and noticed the things they'd done all year.

After a couple of days of watching how they struggled to understand what they should do, I decided that the best way to explain was by giving examples. I started my own tradition that first year, and I have found that it helps my students to share their thoughts in writing with each other at the end of the year.

Every year I bring in all my high school yearbooks (10th grade - 12th grade), and I show them to my students. I read some of things my friends wrote to me, and I say how much those words still mean to me. Sometimes I tell a story about that friend and something fun we did together, or how we met and became friends. I always point out how even after all these years, the words my friends gave to me back then...are still treasures that make my heart smile. My friends loved me, and I loved them. Time and distance doesn't change the love we shared or the experiences we had together.

My students are always impressed with how well my friends wrote, how funny they were in some of the things they said, my personality and who I am hasn't changed much from the way my friends described me. I sometimes think that is my students' favorite part. They love hearing my friends describe me in the same way they see me. I wasn't a different person at seventeen than I am now. I am older, more mature, and (hopefully) wiser - but I am still me. My students find comfort in that.

This year, when I brought out my yearbooks in class, I realized that my senior annual was now thirty years old. Wow. I hadn't really thought about it until I held it up to my first period class. One of my students pointed out how thirty years is a reeeeeally long time. I had to chuckle. Yes, I suppose it is, but - I pointed out to my students - look how long my friends' words have stood the test of time!

What words, I always ask, would they want someone to look back on in thirty years and be glad they were friends? What words could they say that would reach through time and distance and still make someone's heart smile? It makes them think, it makes them want to write something special to their friends, and it helps them say goodbye to another chapter in their lives.

I do believe that words are a special kind of magic, and I would like to thank all my high school friends for helping me to teach this lesson to my students every year. Most importantly, I want to thank them for sharing their words with me all those years ago. I still treasure what was written and the wonderful friendships we shared! :)


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, Laura! You know, there's a bigger lesson here for a teacher. We sometimes make the mistake of assuming children know how to do things (like express themselves), and if we don't pick up on the clues that they are struggling (and they aren't aware they are struggling), important things can be missed.

  2. Kim,
    That is pretty much my largest and grandest fear going into teaching. I truly don't want to fail my students by not seeing all of them. I know that know one is perfect, especially teachers, but I don't want to miss a struggling student. Their struggling can come in so many forms, academics, social skills, home life, etc. All I can do is pray, do my best, and TRY! :)