For teachers, the end of the year is always a time for reflection. My students and I talk through how we can continue to improve the middle school experience for next year’s kids. Ghosts of former students that occasionally materialize throughout the year, looking over my shoulder while I’m teaching and reminding me of a basic truth they taught me, begin to gather together as if for Reunion. The AP French class that made a music video of the reggae song “Femme Libérée.” The 9th graders who raised money for a special doll that Franklin Medical Center could use with little kids to help them understand what was happening with them. The French 3 student who caught fire when she learned to use the tenacity she brought to being a superb soccer goalkeeper to improve her schoolwork. The girl who could laugh at the four-year senior dinner as she looked back on her 9th grade year when she would knock softly on my apartment door nearly every night at 11:00 or so and say, “Bill, I can’t sleep.” The rock band that pulled off “Stairway to Heaven” with three different groups of kids playing each of the three sections, Emily the guitarist holding things together through each transition. Literally hundreds more students hover above me, asking if I remember them, smiling to learn that I do.
Ghosts of current students, too, fill my mind – ghosts of who they used to be. When you teach middle school, incredible growth almost, but not quite, ceases to amaze you because it happens every single year. During the first week, I used to have to turn my right ear toward one student and stand within six inches of her to hear what she was saying; now, I can look back to April and remember her reading poetry to a room full of friends and their families with a voice audible in every corner. The Humanities 7 class, from being a roomful of relative strangers, has coalesced into a model community of writers with extraordinary talent and a high level of honest supportiveness. The drummer in the rock band used to need me to write her parts for her; now, I just give her the basic beat and off she goes! There are stories all of us could (and do) tell about every single student. Those of you who can attend our 8th Grade Moving Up Ceremony will hear many of those stories, and you will understand why our eyes fill up at this time every year.
This morning, I read a reflective essay an international student had written on her year. She wrote simply and with aching honesty about how scared she was on the first day, how truly alien everything seemed. Even the aspect of school she thought would be the most stable, her teachers (reasoning that people who choose to go into teaching would have a lot in common regardless of what their nationality is), seemed strange and new and different. As she fell asleep sharing a room with a total stranger for the first time ever in her life, she felt sad, lost and alone, and wondered if coming to this school in this country had been one of the worst mistakes of her life.
Today, she is grateful to have had her world opened up. She’s learned how different people can be, how she can herself be seen as different by other people, and how those differences are what makes the world special and interesting. She wants to travel a lot and learn about other countries. She thinks coming here is one of the best things to have happened to her.
Earlier this morning, I ran to the dining room to fill my coffee mug back up, and passed a group of parents setting up for the annual “Make a Muffin” breakfast they prepare for faculty, staff and students. The tables were overflowing not just with muffins but also with pastries, coffee rings, and lots of other yummy things. I saw two moms hugging each other as one told the other, “It all came together.”
So it did.