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I think back on my years in the classroom fondly. They remain the most challenging and deeply satisfying years of my career thus far. Anyone who has ever taught knows the end of the year has a special feel to it. The last couple of months are the most grueling and also the most poignant. Our mental exhaustion makes us wish the days would count down faster. Our tenacity makes us wish for extra time.
When we start the year, we are full of grand ideas and high levels of energy. We are mapping out scopes and sequences, organizing our rooms, connecting with our colleagues. New names, new faces, freshly copied syllabi. Greeting parents, welcoming newcomers. More than anything, we want to fill our students’ minds with all the knowledge, passion, and creativity we can.
As the year wears on, we are completely absorbed in it and catch our breaths only when we are able. We become superstar multi-taskers—coaches, psychologists, nurturers, negotiators, and miracle workers—whether or not our personalities or circumstances allow. We are so busy nourishing others that we forget to nourish ourselves sometimes.
Seeing student blossom and struggle
Toward the end of the year, a transition happens. We start to reflect more, worry less (if we are lucky), and still wonder if the goals, hopes, and dreams we planted in our students will take hold and bear fruit. Planning time becomes even more important. Grading becomes a bigger chore. Relationships and trust are everything.
When we see our students blossom, we swell with quiet pride. Somehow the concepts finally come together. Some of our students are pleasantly surprised to know their hard work has paid off. Every once in a while a shy kid speaks more confidently. The reluctant reader becomes a little less so. The attention seeker actually pauses and listens to another point of view.
When we witness our students struggle, we carry the disappointment and become detectives who vigilantly sift through the clues to figure out what should have been different. I would love to say that the most challenging students found the feel-good movie endings that we like. Many did not. The one thing I learned for sure is that the most difficult students are often the ones who need the most love. They did not ask for their circumstances, and neither did their teachers. For better or worse, we were put together and had to figure out a way to make it work despite the obstacles.
Near the finish line
The final week is the worst. It feels like the last mile of a marathon. The finish line is near, and we have just enough left to stagger to the finish. The sights and sounds we swore we could do without are so much a part of the work we love that we will end up missing them. The last of the junk food wrappers have been swept up. The clamor that used to fill the hallways is gone. The constant roar of the cafeteria has died down. As we take down the bulletin boards and pack away the school supplies, a mild sense of sadness sets in.
While our minds know that we can’t accomplish everything and impact every child as we would like, our hearts are glad we tried anyway. Without prompting, we start preparing mentally for the next year. Well, maybe next week after we get some rest.
Joy C. Dingle is an independent K–16 education consultant in the Washington, DC, area.