I am visited by two former Seniors on a recent Friday in early June. They have been out of school for only a short time, having graduated three weeks prior. We stay in touch because, well, that's one of the main reasons I am in this profession - to make a lasting difference in the lives of students. But it's not only the students; it's their families as well. I attend their graduation parties, keep up to date on their life happenings, I even recently attended the wedding and reception of one of my former students whom I had taught when he was in the 6th grade. He's now 28.
But this is what is required of this job. We are in the business of making lasting impressions. For anyone who doesn't believe this to be true, and that your only job as an educator is to impart knowledge and provide kids with information that they could just as easily find online, you are sorely mistaken. I could easily insert here all of the research that proves, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that relationships matter and that students will learn more from you and remember more of the content you present them with if they actually like you and feel that you actually care about them, but this is not that post.
And if we are in the business of making lasting impressions, because we know what is true and right and good for all students, then we know that this is a human endeavor which requires things to be messy and take time and cause vulnerability in the process of developing close bonds. Why would kids want to listen to you if they don't trust you? Why would parents back you up and support you if they don't believe you have their child's best interests in mind and at heart? Sure, they don't have a choice but to send their children to school. There are compulsory attendance laws people have to abide by. But that doesn't mean that kids have to learn.
And I'm off track here, but make no apologies. Two seniors. Visiting me. In my office on a recent Friday in June. That's where we were. I am not surprised that they are here. I never am. It's almost expected that they will come and visit. And stay awhile. Which they do. And they start talking.
In the course of conversation (they stay for over two hours), I work on my laptop and finish cleaning my office. I have two weeks of vacation coming up and we talk as I work. They tell me what they have been up to, the adventures they have been on, how their families are doing (one has a brother who was seriously ill but is finally, after months of being bed-ridden and receiving homebound tutoring, on the mend; the other has a mother she hasn't seen in months and is hoping to be reunited with before she goes off to college in the Fall), and about their preparations for post-high school. They are both going a large state university. Different ones, and they talk about their plans for how they will continue to visit one another. They've got it all figured out, down to how many miles and minutes it will take to get to one another on holidays and long weekends.
And one of them says something to me that strikes a chord, and here is where this story ends. He says, after finishing a long, elaborate story of a recent weekend escapade in which he shares more than I really need to hear, "We're finally free, Dr. P. We're finally able to enjoy life, Dr. P."
He doesn't realize that what he says will leave a lasting, burning impression on me, and I know that many kids feel the same way. I recognize that many kids, upon graduating their Senior year, feel as if they own the world and are ready for "real life to begin." I am pretty sure, looking back, that I probably felt the same way and lived it up for a while upon graduation. I barely made it after all; I was definitely ready to be free of 6:00am wake-ups and cramming for tests and being surprised about pop quizzes and having to work on group projects with kids who didn't like me and the Dean's Office and taking the bus with its smell of hot plastic seat coverings forever etched into my nasal cavity... the list goes on.
I don't know what the point is, except to say that I know this high school experience. I can feel this experience in my soul and remember it clearly to this day and how I felt most days. And that one phrase, uttered by that one 18 year old upon having recently graduated: "We're finally able to enjoy life, Dr. P," will stick with me for a very long time.
And if it is as I think it is, then we are able to create a different experience for kids, write a very different narrative with kids, get to know them, love them, be vulnerable for them, and ask ourselves:
"What do we need to do TODAY to make sure that kids can't wait to come back TOMORROW." What do we need to do TODAY to ensure that kids - during the school year, not once they've graduated - can feel that they are enjoying life. That they don't need to wait until they graduate before real life can finally begin.