I hate this time of year. I do. I dread it. But not for the reason most would think — not because of all the testing, not because the kids see that summer is just about here and are acting “accordingly”, and not because I — and co-workers — are exhausted.

 I dread it because it means the end. You know when you’re reading a great novel, (or, I suppose, watching a great series on Netflix) you reach the end and you feel bereft. Now what? You’ve invested your time, your mind, your heart in this plot, and now it’s over. There’s a void there. I feel the same with the ending of a school year, particularly with our graduating seniors. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I taught senior English — I’d have my fill of their “senioritis” — but I was their freshman teacher. I saw them from the beginning with their large, worried eyes, and I watched them experience the growing pains and the joys of becoming them. I have invested my time, my mind, my heart, and many sleepless nights, and now their time at school is over. These kids — they are so great.

With them, I experienced their ups and downs of what is high school life. Many wrote about it in their essays. I saw the joy and worry on their faces in the hallways. Each new school year, I could see how different and changed and improved they were from the year before.

Basically, I really just care about these kids. At the end of the day I often tell my last class, “Good night — drive home safely — wear your seatbelts and pay attention to the road!” On Fridays, I’ll say, “Have a great weekend, kids. Please be careful, a lot of people love you, and we’d like to see you here on Monday.” At this time of their graduation when they will soon leave the halls of Declo and not return, what do I want to say? I want to say, my kids, you did it. Some reached far and above, some of struggled more than others, but all made it. All were kind. That is something I will miss the most — witnessing their kindness for each other. I am blessed to be where I teach. These kids. They teach me every day. They have tackled this first accomplishment of high school graduation, and they will continue to accomplish much more after this.

But unlike my other wishes, I sometimes don’t get to see the outcome. As years go by, I do get small updates: I have received wedding announcements, baby announcements, and a few even come back to the area to live. Last week I received a graduation announcement from one of my very first students when I taught sixth grade. This bright young woman is graduating from the United States Air Force Academy as Second Lieutenant, majoring in civil engineering. Civil engineering! I am overjoyed in her accomplishments! Conversely, there are other graduates I never see again, and I often wonder what has happened to them. I hope they are living out their dreams. I hope they are happy. I hope they are safe. I hope they are still kind.

This is also a sad time as our district is losing many great teachers. In my own building, a few are retiring. One in particular has taught next to my room for nearly ten years. He took me under his wing, sharing his insight, wisdom, and humor helping me find my footing. He isn’t a co-worker but was many roles to me: a friend, a father, a mentor, so when he walks out the doors in a few weeks — forever — will I see him again? And some of the teachers who taught me when I was a young Burley Bobcat in the nineties are also leaving. You see, these are the giants in the expression, “standing on the shoulders of giants.” It was because of these great teachers that I wanted to do for other as they did for me. They loved us. They loved their subject and loved teaching. They helped, they inspired, they cared. They were giants. And now they are leaving. Other giants of my time in high school are not far behind. I looked up to those teachers, and I look up to them to this day. I teach because of their example, and I am grateful. I wish them the happiest of retirement — they have certainly earned it.

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This is how I work, though. I tend to worry. This is me worrying about people I care about — kids I have cared for the past four years whom I may never see again. The world out there is big and tough and getting more strange and more hateful every day. It is no Declo. So I end in this the blunt words of Kurt Vonnegut: “Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you've got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies-"…, you've got to be kind.”

Be careful, young ones. Drive safely, wear your seat belts, pay attention, be strong, be you, be kind. Be great and do great things.

Kasey A. Heward is an English teacher at Declo High School.

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