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.