Thursday, June 19, 2014

Build Them Up; Send Them Off

by Lori

I actually wrote what follows a little over a year ago when a very special group of students graduated. I was privileged to be their Pre-AP I and Pre-AP II teacher and in that time, we were able to build lasting relationships. They are now finishing their first year of college, and they've texted me pictures of their dorm rooms with neatly made beds, paragraphs from papers they are exceptionally proud of, and reminders of inside jokes we had as a class. The day they walked, I was proud. I thought I'd be a puddly mess, but I sat on that arena floor with them and proudly thought these things as I watched them walk across the stage. This is what relationships can do.

Four years ago, as I began my third year of teaching, I walked into a classroom full of freshmen. After moving rooms (completely against my will) and acquiring Pre-AP freshmen (also almost completely against my will), it felt like my first year all over again. I had never wanted to teach freshman because freshmen were…icky freshmen. But you guys changed my life. I wish I could tell each and every one of you how much you mean to me.
You. I meant every word that I wrote in your letter of recommendation. Every bit of it.
Youyou read Juliet, and I know…I just know that Shakespeare himself would have leaned in just a little further, hanging onto your words as you so eloquently delivered them. Later, you admitted to me that you practiced those lines the night before in the hopes that I would ask you to read in class. The following year, you knocked on my door and cried your eyes out when tragedy struck. I wanted to take it all away, but could do nothing but hold you and pray.
You didn’t want to be in Pre-AP. You didn’t think you were smart enough. Little did you know that every time you asked me a question, all of your peers looked at you out of sheer intimidation. They knew you were smart. I knew you were smart. You finally figured it out, and while you continued to ask really good questions, you also began to make really smart assertions. You knew it to be true, so you stated it as fact, and no one could argue with you.
Yousigh…how many times have I rescued you in the last four years. What’s funny is that in the beginning, you hated me. Do you remember that? You’d sit in the back and look at me as though I were crazy or stupid. But, look how much you’ve grown! Look at how amazing you are! I wont’ be able to rescue you anymore. But then again, I guess you’ll no longer need it.
Oh…you. At first, I couldn’t believe it. Most kids hate their summer reading assignment. I’ll be honest…I hate it. But you took it and ran with it. So much so that you wrote this ginormous paper that I never was able to finish reading. We laughed about it throughout that whole year together, and we still laugh about it today.
YouToday, I’ll listen to you give a speech as you stand in front of your entire graduating class as their salutatorian. As a freshman, you wrote a beautiful poem during our first week together called I am From. You wrote about a swing set that was so old that it hurt, and it was lovely. I still remember it. You brought me atole that you and your mother made. You helped me with a graduate school project by bringing me pictures that I needed. You completed every single assignment, project, and paper with so much perfection that I often times felt bad that you stayed up as late as you did to complete the work. 
You. At the end of our freshman year, I gave awards to every single student in class and made sure to say something kind about every single kid. I had never done that before, and I have not done it since. When I was finished, you stood up and said there was one last award to give out. You came to the front of the class, and proceeded to recap our year together and say so many wonderful and kind things about me…things that every teacher hopes to hear.
You…I’m laughing out loud thinking about you. Your antics as a freshman drove me utterly insane, but the more I thought about it I realized that your jokes were simply a defense mechanism to mask your insecurities. But I think you now know you’re beautiful. The rest of us knew it all along.
You, yes you, my little red balloon, you grew from a shy little girl with braces who was afraid to speak. But we read a beautiful book together and you got it…you got it deep within your soul and it resonated with you. You will always be special to me.
You are all special to me. My own children are small. They still need me and depend on me. But you no longer need me. I was blessed to be your teacher for two years and to watch you grow up and live out your high school years. I’ve cheered for you, I’ve prayed for you, I’ve celebrated with you, and—just like a proud mom—I’ve talked so much about you. You are the highlight of my teaching career, and while I am not prepared to see you go, it is with pride that I watch you walk.
Congratulations!

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