Saying Goodbye at the end of the School Year is Never Easy

Each June I struggle finding the right departing remarks to say to my studentsas the class runs its course (pun intended).

It’s my last chance to hold their attention and leave a lasting impression with them of sage advice.

I fail every year.

How can one encapsulate the meaning of the yearlong learning experience?

I know that the secondary teacher does not have as hard a time emotionally as the elementary teacher in saying goodbye.

In grammar school, a teacher accumulates 180 days of 6 hours each for a total teaching time of 1,080 hours—accounting for a lot of bonding—while upper grade teachers spend only 17% as much time with their pupils. No wonder why people tend to remember a beloved third grade teacher more than an algebra teacher; one is more like a parent while the other an uncle that visits on holidays.

Still, I wish I could stop the clock and hold on to each class a little while longer.

But part of the education business is saying “hello” in August and “goodbye” in June.

For me, saying final farewells to my journalism students is the toughest for these young people have been with me for two to three years, spending their lunchtimes and evenings in room 11202, forging friendships with fellow dedicated kids who recognize at an early age the benefits of a group of people working hard together to produce a publication.

When I first took on the journalism job during my fourth year of teaching, I realized how remarkable it was to work so closely with young people on the school newspaper, finishing it long into the night, then driving the individually cut and pasted 11×17 rubber cemented pages to the print shop. (Now we electronically send the files—faster, but not as fun.)

When that 1993-94 year wound down, I could not imagine having those 18 kids vanish without commemorating and celebrating the work that was accomplished.

So we all agreed to have breakfast at Musso & Frank’s in Hollywood, a special restaurant in order to reflect that special year so that we all could be together one last time.

Thus was born what has now become an annual end of the year tradition, the journalism banquet.

After eating, I suggested a walk along Hollywood Boulevard. Only a couple of students had ever been to Hollywood so many were giddy about seeing in person the Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre with its forecourt of handprints and footprints in cement, and other famous sights.

As the staff grew to 70 students within a few years, we had to change the venue to eating establishments with private banquet rooms since students would make speeches which extended the event past two hours. Over the years, we have held journalism banquets at the Smoke House, the Tam O’Shanter, and most recently Brookside Golf Club.

Of all the memorable speeches journalism students have given, I will never forget one by a young lady who as feature editor did little work, leaning on others to layout her pages. Yet when it came time to thank everyone, she turned to me and tearfully said how grateful she was for my support during her darkest days, looking up to me as a “second father.” Her kind words touched me more than any spoken by any other student in my career.

It is often said among educators that a teacher will never know with certainty the impact he makes on young people.   This student reminded me of that saying. And that the best way for a teacher to say “goodbye” is to let a student speak on his behalf.

A Student with a Go After It Attitude

I often encourage my student journalists not to feel fearful or intimidated when selling advertisements or speaking to adults for articles.   However, it remains challenging for many of these young people to assert themselves.   A small minority do have a natural “go after it” attitude. One such person is Melody Shahsavarani.

A senior at Hoover High, I have known Melody for three years, first as an honors English student and now as a budding journalist working for the school newspaper, the Tornado Times. She always has a smile on her face that attracts the listener to whatever topic she is discussing.

During winter break, Melody emailed the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team to see if she could cover one of their games as a sports journalist. After not receiving a reply back, she remembered how welcoming new Clipper owner and Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer was to the fans so she contacted him directly.

Within a couple of days, she was sitting in the back seat of her friend’s car when she noticed an email on her cell phone with the words “high school” in the message line.

“I thought it was an ASB thing,” Melody said since she is a member of the Associated Student Body serving as Senior Class President.

When she opened up the correspondence, she could not believe the opening words “Steve forwarded me your email.”

“I died right there,” Melody said with an excitable cadence.

President of Business Operations Gillian Zucker responded on behalf of Ballmer and was impressed with her spunk and tenacity so much that Melody was indeed invited to cover the Clipper game last week against the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center. She would be afforded all privileges of the working press, from the media parking lot to attendance at press conferences as well watching the game from the official press box.

Like a dream, Melody found herself sitting in front of head coach Doc Rivers at the pre-game conference and Chris Paul and her idol Blake Griffin at the post-game conference. While she was unable to ask a question due to a prior selection protocol, she still found the event fascinating.

“I couldn’t believe how tall Michael Smith was,” Melody said of the 6’10” Clipper radio and TV color commentator who does the Clipper games alongside legendary play-by-play announcer Ralph Lawler. “I stood right at his waist.”

She describes the experience as the biggest thrill of her life, with a clearer understanding of “the adrenaline rush of what it’s like to be a sports journalist.”

What these students may not realize is how much more excited I am for their accomplishments.   Few things bring more pleasure to teachers than when students have breakthrough moments.

Hopefully Melody will continue pursuing other endeavors with the same zeal as she did with covering the Clipper game. Her only regret was not being able to take a photo of herself with Griffin.

“They told me that as a reporter I had to be neutral,” Melody said even though she wore her Clipper sweatshirt to the game.

“Honestly, I almost died when Blake Griffin looked at me courtside when he was practicing before the game.”   In fact, she requested that I change her last name to Shahsavarani-Griffin, but that would be inaccurate (at least as of press time).