End of YearJune 10, 2016
When I was a middle school visual arts teacher the end of each school year was bittersweet for me. This became especially true as I learned more about teaching and learning. As many of you know, when I left the classroom after 30 years I wasn’t retiring, just taking on a different role in the education world. And, at the time there was a good chance that I’d return to the classroom in a year. This marks my 10th year out of the classroom. In my heart I still think of myself as a teacher and I hope that I never lose site that students need to be at the center of every decision I am part of in the field of education. I know how fortunate I am that I have a second career (or maybe third) working now at the Maine Arts Commission.
With the end of the school year upon us I am taking a moment to reflect on how I felt at this time of year. There was so much going on in our middle school – so much energy – and careful planning. The team I worked on was totally committed to making the end of the school year meaningful for every student. We wanted our 8th graders to walk out the door on the last day READY to move on to the high school and our 7th graders thinking positively about returning in the fall.
Once the last big dance was over, the artwork returned, the community studies complete, the awards given out in front of hundreds of proud family members, the pictures taken, the last day water slide and cookout done, the rooms clean enough for the summer crew to do their work, grades put on the computer, and the final staff meeting filled with laughter, I’d drive home through tears and sleep for about a week. I wouldn’t have changed a moment of those days and years!
Once I’d recover and woke up, I’d take time at the beach to read what my students wrote on their self and teacher evaluations. For me it was a great way to launch into summer and consider what changes I’d make in the next school year. I learned so much from my students about myself as a teacher and as a person. And, as the years went by I found myself needing to learn more since the age gap increased. Sometimes I’d wonder who was the teacher and who was the student. I was learning a ton more than my students were.
The average person speaks about 16,000 words a day and the days that I learned the most were the ones that I listened more than they did. When I was working on my 16,000 words I’d wonder what was being heard when I’d see that glazed over look. For many of my students their struggles and successes as young adolescents were monumental. I knew my role had to be a balance. And, for most of each day it wasn’t about the art that I was teaching or they were learning, but it was about the relationships formed. (And I am NOT talking about friendships). If that happened, the art teaching and learning was easier, the bar went higher, and students were more successful. Those that had a crazy notion that they “weren’t good at art” surprised themselves over and over.
As the sunsets on another school year and you engage in all of the “end of school year” traditions and tasks I hope that you will take time to reflect on your successes and learn from your challenges. And, mostly I hope that each and every student leaves knowing that they learned from you and your class.