Moving up ceremonies; graduations; the preparation of final grades, comments, and transcripts — these happenings tell us without question that the strangest school year in memory has come to a close. The children we have been calling “our” students are not ours anymore. Just as they belonged to a different group of teachers the year before they were ours, they will very soon sit in other people’s classrooms and offices and belong, for a time, to them. That’s why, as much as I love what it means — normalcy, rites of passage, growth — I find the hand-off that happens at the end of the school year to be hard.
Just a few weeks ago, I prepared to hand off a group of 40 high school juniors to their next college counselor. They were only “mine” for a brief five months — I had stepped in to the work of college guidance for a friend who had fallen ill — but it took no time at all to know their secret hopes, worst fears, and little quirks — and in knowing them, to cherish them and want the best for them. There were the two who always came to each other’s meetings just to cheer the other on, the girl who wanted to be an actress, the swimmer who planned to study law, the boy who loved marine biology, and the boy who said his girlfriend’s name with love in his throat. There was the football player, the boy who loved to tinker, and the boy who wanted to work in agriculture. There was the girl who wanted to hit the open road, the girl who wanted to get lost in a crowd, and the one who wanted to live in the mountains.
There wasn’t much to do to ready myself for the meeting where I would tell their next counselor about them and turn over my files. I had kept a spreadsheet of notes about each one and the notes pretty much summed it up — when we met, what we talked about, what we decided, what we changed our minds about, what their parents said, what their parents wanted, what would need to happen over the summer, and more. And yet. Nothing I had written down really captured what I most wanted to say. What I felt about each student couldn’t be found in the cells of excel or in the margins of my hasty jottings on notebook paper, slid between the front and back cover of an ordinary manilla folder.
Thus, the hand-off — the official meeting where one adult tries to tell another adult all of the inexpressible things she has noticed and thought about during the banal magic that sparks at surprising moments during conferences and classes, and even when bantering in the hall and lunchroom — was hard this year, maybe especially so. This was a year when people mattered so much to me, given my radically reduced social life, travel, and in-person interactions.
I’m as ready as anyone for summer, for time outdoors and offline. I have spent more hours on a device this year than I can tally. Unlike the poignant feelings I had as I handed off my students, it brought me true joy to return a few devices that I was using back to the schools that own them. Goodbye, ipad; goodbye, Surface. May you be scrubbed of all my fingerprints and notes, emails and web searches. As for saying goodbye to this batch of students, that’s another story. They imprinted my heart, and even if I wanted to pass them along without a care, I couldn’t.
I have decided that the true purpose of summer vacation is for the educator’s heart to slow its beating, to come to a kind of rest before ramping up again in September, when it expands to welcome the next class in. As much as school is about the strengthening of the mind, it is also undoubtedly about the resilience of the heart.