It’s time to leave.
I have heard that it gets easier with time.
I know it seems weird but as a teacher, I spend a great deal of my time thinking about you. I think about you when I am in the car driving to school. I think about you over beers with friends. I think about you in the quiet moments of the classroom. I think about you riding my bike along the Rhine. I think about you when I am looking up cool resources or researching educational practice.
I think about how to design really cool engagements to get you get excited about learning. I think about how to help you make more friends. I think about what that little weird thing that you do is- perhaps a learning need, a difference, how can I reach you? What can I do better for you? What are my failures? My successes?
I think, and think, and think until you aren’t just a student, a number, or a responsibility; nope, you become my kid too.
I want you to be happy. I want you to have character, and strength and knowledge. I want you to take action to make your world a better place. I want you to grow up healthy and empowered. I don’t just say it- I really mean it.
But it doesn’t stop there. I think about you once you are gone too.
I think about one of my first students, David*. He came to school in dirty clothes, with no lunch, he often hit and spat at me. Everyday, I packed extra lunch to share, everyday I made sure I told him I loved him. I often wonder what type of a man he is today?
I think about Alex*, who cried every day for three weeks when he first came to kindergarten. I think about how I had to carry him around so he felt safe. I was the first white person he had ever seen, I was a scary, blue-eyed, ginger giant and I had to make myself funny, approachable and loving. Now Alex is a teen, off at boarding school in England. I wonder how he deals with change- with strength and bravery?
Or, Jiwon* with her incredible giggle, her ability at such a young age to read, and her super-strong hugs. I think about her as a young lady. Growing up in such an amazing world of opportunity and connection.
Or, Edward* who couldn’t sit still and was bigger than all the other kids, who didn’t know how to control his body or deal with the fall-out of his actions. I thought a lot about him and how to get it right for him. And now I wonder if I did all I could do, to be the best for him.
Or, Billy* with his heart wrenching British accent, peppered language and insatiable energy. A kid who often reminds me what I must have been like for the adults who took care of me. A kid that has made me smile every single time I have ever spoken with him. Even when he calls me a stinky, sausage bottom.
Or, any of the 300 plus students I have taught in the last 14 years. There have been those of you with significant learning needs, some of you with social emotional issues, those of you who are abused, neglected, pushed too hard, or not pushed enough. Some of you are kids who are spoiled with love and goodness, kids who are happy and content. No matter what your situation is, I still think about you.
But what about your pesky parents? I think about the parents who have offered me kindness and friendship. Those who have spoiled me too! Delicious gifts of wine, expensive gifts of Tiffany necklaces, funny gifts of cellulite cream, disturbing gifts of skin whitening paste, fun gifts of parties, touching gifts of songs, cards and letters, but more importantly gifts of time and energy and love. How does one possibly repay kindness of this magnitude?
But truthfully, I also I think about those of you parents who challenged me, those who were worriers, who were angry, who were lost…yes, I think about you too. I think about how I could have been better, how I could have reached out more, what I could have done to make you more comfortable, addressed your pain and suffering, to help you along in your own learning journey.
I think about you, because you have changed me. There is something that fundamentally changes within us each time we open our hearts and minds to others. I am no longer the person I was a year ago, or 4, or 10, or 14. I am better, richer, and wiser- just as fallible- but perhaps, more willing to admit it.
It is easy to think that change happens spontaneously from within. A genesis birthed from our own cleverness and introspection. But I have found that the impetus of change has always been my classroom. My students remind me of my strengths and the areas I need to improve- in my practice, but also in my life. After all, if I have an expectation of my students, I must certainly have that same expectation of myself.
Indeed, I am only a shadow cast by the collective potential of the students that have been in my care.
So, as is the nature of international teaching, it is time to leave. But as I move on, I don’t leave you. I can’t. You have become a part of who I am. You have left an indelible mark that is inked on my character and simply cannot be rubbed out with time.
With loving kindness,
*names have been changed