Teach & Serve II, No. 41 – Graduations

Teach & Serve II, No. 41 – Graduations

May 17, 2017

So, yes, our students leave us but we, in large part, do not leave them.

The sun is out with more regularity and throughout more of the day. The trees and grasses are greener. The flowers are budding. There is, if you listen closely, more melody of birds in the air. Spring is upon us and summer is not far behind.

For us in the work of education that can only mean that the end of the year approaches.

Rapidly.

Though there are things standing between us and the end of the year, some of them pleasant, some of them hurdles, some of them variable from school-to-school, there is a universal: graduation.

Typically, and appropriately, graduation is viewed primarily as a student event, a moment (or long series of moments strung together in what can seem to be an interminable chain depending upon who your school conducts its festivities) during which the senior class is honored, their names are called and their last steps as members of our student communities are taken. It shines the spotlight on the kids as they leave us and that is a very good thing.

It signals something of an end and a speaker is likely to remind the crowd that these particular groups of students, their families and their teachers will never occupy the same space again.

I used to mention sentiments like that when I spoke at graduations. They were true words.

But, it is important to remember at these times as the names are read and the stages are crossed and the parties are thrown, that the experiences our students have had at our schools go on. These graduates are who they are because of what has happened to them and what they have done in the years at our schools.

The students leave us and, if we are honest with ourselves, it is hard to remember each of them in sharp detail. Our work is predicated on assisting groups of kids to go, it is based on mentoring them away from us and, though the best among us are excellent at recalling the majority of students they have taught (I have never been great at this in all honesty), the fact is one group graduates and another comes in.

So, yes, our students leave us but we, in large part, do not leave them.

They can point to interactions we do not remember. They can identify as critical moments incidents we might recall as insignificant. They can recall the paths we led them down when we did not even know we were pointing them in any direction at all.

That is a heady realization. There is a responsibility in the work we do. We have responsibility for every interaction we have with a student.

This is not a responsibility we should ever take lightly. If we do underestimate it, it is time to look for another vocation.

The reality is that most of those who work in education, who work as administrators and teachers, understand this responsibility and, more than that, they embrace it. They love students and that is why they are in the work.

An old and overused adage goes like this: “A teacher was asked: ‘what do you teach?’ The person inquiring wanted to know what subject the teacher instructed. ‘Students,’ the teacher replied, ‘I teach students.’” We have heard this one before and, while it is worn, it does convey a truth.

If we are in education, the students are entrusted to us are far more important than the content we convey.

Graduations should serve to remind us of the awesome responsibility we have. Graduations should be a celebration of the work that we do. In as much as they mark the accomplishment of our students, let them also mark ours as well. Let them serve as reminders of the good work we do and let them challenge us, as we look to the summer sun, to review, revive and return in the fall ready to serve once again.