It’s June and there are many end of the year celebrations happening each day. Last week, I watched our eighth graders and parents at a dinner followed by a teacher speaking for each graduate. This is truly one of the most memorable traditions for our graduates. I know many of these children began thinking about this evening early in the school year, if not before. My colleagues work diligently and with great joy to craft words which capture the essence and fond memories of each young adult. A handful of these kids have been at our school since they were two, three or four years of age. Others have been with us for just a year or two. All these teachers know these kids (and others) as learners and as young adults who possess unique strengths and challenges which they are poised to over come. Their speeches were filled with anecdotes, humor, admiration, and sage advice. More than a few brought the audience (and speakers) to tears. When you know children really well – no matter if they are your own or not — and see them grow into amazing young adults, it’s breath-taking. Most of us remember the feeling we had as teens, when you believe you and your friends are the center of the universe and the world is before you, full of opportunity, good times, and adventure. It is a wonderous time of life. A time to be proud and celebrate achieivement and to look at new goals ahead.
Even for those children not graduating to another stage of school and life, the end of the year is a time for reflecting on the achievements, growth and joys of the year. While many of these celebrations are carefully planned and executed, there are others which spontaneously arise. After several weeks of personal and classroom events to celebrate and close out different aspects of the 2009-2010 year, the impromptu, scurrying and sharing that filled our final morning in first grade captured my heart and allowed me to see we had all done a very fine job together this year.
By the last day, our hard work was done – the academics, the reflections, portfolio assembly, and report writing. Our room was neatly packed up and cleaned responsibly by myself and my soon-to-be second graders. Art work was photographed and sent home. Materials which were nearly out of their useful life or that I no longer needed were “sold” at our flea market. This was truly the one day all year I didn’t have a thing planned and while part of me knew we’d fill the time before Chapel, I was a little unsure about what we’d do.
I joke with my kids that my job is to teach them to do a lot of the “stuff” I do, so that they can do it independently and I can do other things. I often get groans about that, but on this day, they ran with that idea. Quickly, a few started organizing the pack, delegating jobs, negotiating the sharing of materials and tasks, determining what would happen at morning meeting. Some wrote our message, organized a shared writing project as folks settled in, sent me out of the room for a few minutes, rang the chime to gather everyone and got our meeting underway. We had done quite a bit of reflecting (“what was the hardest thing about first grade?” “what was the best thing about first grade?” What is one thing you want to do this summer?”) and now we were purely in it for fun. Spontaneously, our sharing became a mini-authors’ share, where each child who wrote me a card read it and took questions. Then we moved our stage to the circle so three could perform the songs and poems they wrote. We were on the floor laughing with them when I looked around the circle and realized – again – how much they’ve grown into confident, industrious, engaged learners who are all ready for summer vacation and the challenge of second grade. They pulled together to work, drawing on the talents of each and the inter-connected lessons of friendship, conflict resolution, writing, word study, religion, math and reading to share with me and with each other their pride in first grade and their love of our year together.
These feelings of pride and accomplishment are not unique to our class nor our school, but I do think it’s one of the things we do best. When you are clear about your mission, work hard to achieve goals which reflect that mission and realistic expectations, and make the time to reflect on the growth, there will inherently be pride and joy, that in turn, builds the confidence to take on more challenges in life and learning.
If you’ve been around more than a couple of decades, you know that life isn’t easy nor smooth. The resilience that comes when you have confidence and a support system will sustain you, along with a healthy dose of faith, humor, and perseverance. I believe our eight graders have seen that through their years in school – it’s not always easy, neat, nor smooth – but hopefully, in the end, you’ll look back at any given stage of life with the same enthusiasm and pride as my first graders did on our last day and celebrate with friends as you eagerly await whatever lies ahead.