One by one, I watched my seniors stand up in front of their fellow students and family members during our Monday chapel session. It was a special chapel created just for them, featuring songs sung by seniors who have participated in worship band. I watched one of my students sing in front of us all, and then it finally hit me: This will be one of the last times I will see this girl sing in the worship band. It will be the last time that I will hear this boy’s voice before he moves on to the next stage in life.
I often wonder how it feels as a parent to watch your child grow up. Considering the bittersweet heartache I experience each year as I watch my own “children” set off for their own life experiences in college, I imagine that the pain and joy involved is a complicated mixture of emotions.
I cry every year at graduation.
This year, I will watch some of my students who have been with me since 8th grade and followed me through my entire teaching career. I know them both academically and personally, and see them not just as students, but as my own children. In fact, I have even had some students call me “mom” on purpose because I have taken up the role as a second mom in their lives. I will miss them very much. And yet it is time to let them go and learn how to fly on their own.
As a Christian teacher, the graduation process is never without the wondering. Did I really contribute to this student’s life? Did I do everything I could? Will this student remember my name as the years pass by and remember some of the lessons I taught them? I make a deal with my students whenever they withdraw or graduate: at least once in the next year they have to email me and let me know how they are doing. You cannot imagine how much happiness it brings to my heart to see an email telling me, “Miss Drake, I am getting fantastic grades in my English classes here at college! You were right–they do make you read and write a lot!” Heaven knows whether I will see some of them again. But I hope that they are continuing to seek God for their lives and learning what it means to define their own identities in this changing world.
Watching our students graduate is a difficult process emotionally. But perhaps we should also use these moments to think about our own graduation as teachers. Each year I ask myself, “What is one thing that I should change next year in order to be a better teacher to my students?” As a first year teacher, the list was very long, and I had to limit myself to changing one piece at a time. But the list continues even as the years of experience accumulate. We may have 20 years of teaching experience, master’s degrees and even doctoral degrees, and yet we can still commit ourselves to positive change in our teaching. Being the best teacher possible is an evolving process that never ends. If we were to “graduate” today, we would probably see ourselves at a new beginning instead of at the end, just as our students are now viewing their futures. Next year, let’s commit ourselves to learning and growing. Let’s give our students the best that we can and keep their needs a priority in our own commitment to training and professionalism. Self-discipline is sometimes difficult to maintain, but modeling it will show our students how much we care for them, and demonstrate to them a commitment to our field.