Today was the last day of school.
All year long, I have been telling my teaching colleagues that this is the best class I've ever had. You see, I have 18 first graders who are kind, thoughtful, independent, funny, motivated, polite, and heartbreakingly sweet. I have no illusions that I did something to deserve this bunch of kiddos, but I have adored them all year!
So, as we've approached the end of the school year, I have had such mixed feelings: I am so excited that our second-grade teachers get to meet these gems, but so sad that I have to give them up! To make the transition a little easier, each student wrote a letter to their second-grade teacher (though we don't know who that will be till August). We read essays by current second graders about what we can expect to learn and do next year.
But, in 14 years of teaching, this has been my hardest goodbye.
We spent the last thirty minutes of class today in a circle. I asked each student to tell us something that he or she remembered about first grade, and asked them to thank anyone in the room who had been kind to them this year. I started the circle by saying that my scooter crash (I was broadsided by an SUV as I rode to school last winter) was the thing I would most remember, along with my terrific students. And I thanked them for making teaching a joy and a delight, and for their hugs and cards when I returned to school after the crash.
To my amazement, every kid chose me to thank. I was blown away. Even though I spend most of my waking hours planning and preparing lessons, thinking about how to challenge and teach and love the little kids in my charge, it is rare for a student to notice that. Kids' relationships with each other are usually so much more obvious and pressing to them than their relationship with me.
All year I have promoted a culture of honesty, kindness, inclusion, and helpfulness. So when I asked them to thank someone, I thought I would hear a lot of "Thank you, Susie, for playing with me at recess." and "Thank you, Dustin, for helping me when I got hurt on the playground."
But every kid said thank you to me, even after I stopped halfway around the circle and reminded them that there were so many others that they could appreciate.
"Thank you for being the nicest teacher I've ever had," said one boy. "Thank you for helping me catch up in first grade," said another, who came in as a tentative reader and has left ON FIRE with the joy of reading. "Thank you for buying all the things in the classroom," said a third student. "Thanks for making such fun lessons," said a fourth.
I hugged every kid on the way out the door. It was so hard to let them go, especially when kids started crying. We took a few individual teacher-kid photos on the lawn, and then everyone dispersed. It was one of the most magical moments of my teaching career.
To their parents, I say "THANK YOU!" Thank you for sending your kid to school every day, hungry to learn and create and grow. Thank you for helping with homework, especially in the first year of our math implementation. Thank you for raising a child who lives with gusto, with strength, and with utter kindness. Thank you for giving me the best year of my career.