A Teacher's Last Day of School

06/05/2015 03:16 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2016

Photo by Former Student Jake McClellan

Today I have to talk about goodbyes. I hate goodbyes, I'm not really sure who likes them, but more than goodbyes, I hate being vulnerable, and lately, tears seem to just come springing out of my eyes, with little warning.

I feel like I'm walking down the hallway with a frog in my throat, and hoping that somehow I make it through another day without bursting into tears.

The bell rings for the last time, the students walk slowly out of the room, offering their goodbyes, best wishes, and telling me that they'll miss me, the words are sweet and wonderful to hear, but they make it hard for me to keep the tears at bay. For a moment, I think that maybe I should let them see me cry, let them see how sad I am to leave.

I quickly come to my senses, remember who I am, and push all of my feelings below the surface.

If my close friends are reading this, they're nodding, not at all surprised that this is how I would handle the closing of this chapter, and shaking their heads, wishing that I would allow myself to be weak for just a moment.

I've wanted to quit for the last three years, however, now that the day has finally arrived it doesn't seem real, and perhaps won't, until August, when I don't return to the classroom, something that I've been doing in one way or another for the last 25 years.

Many ask if I'm excited or having a celebration, my usual response is I'm excited, but also sad, and sometimes angry. And while I've had some mini celebrations, there doesn't seem to be space or time for weekend getaways, because I'm still in the trenches, finishing my last day of school doesn't get me to the finish line.

Photo by Jake McClellan

There is no simple way to decide to quit your job, sell your house, while renovating another, run a gallery, and teach online courses. There is no easy way to take your life plans , throw them out the window, and start over. There isn't a map, oh how I wish that there was.

It's also hard to celebrate, because while I am thankful for the many doors and opportunities that have opened at just the right time, I am sad to be leaving my wonderful coworkers and students that at times drive me crazy, but most of the time light me up. I am sad that the focus of public education has shifted from the students to test scores, and having things look "good on paper," forcing myself and many others to make the hard decision to walk away.

Right now the hardest part is helping my students to understand why I'm leaving, so as I reflect on my last day, I write a letter to my students.

Dear Students, the things that we forgot to tell you while you were in school.

Your test score does not define you....

in fact no one cares what you scored on the PSSA's, Keystone, SAT, or ACT. Really after filling out your college application (if you choose to do so) no one will ask you again. In fact, if asked, I couldn't tell you the answer, I don't remember, I don't care, and my test scores have nothing to do with my success in life.

It's okay if you're not good at math, or you can't identify the parts of speech in a sentence. Some of you may be great at math and English, which is wonderful. Some of you hate it, struggle with it, and don't ever want to solve for "x" again. That's okay too.

Find out what you are good at, and go after it.

Know that just because you're good at something, doesn't mean that you should do it, nor does it mean that it will always be easy.

If you have no desire to go to college , don't go. DO NOT just go to college because someone told you that that is the next step on the ladder that you've been climbing since kindergarden. College is great for some people, and for other's it's both a waste of time and money.

Stop searching for a safe job. ( here's a secret, there is NO SAFE JOB)

Doing a job that comes with a steady paycheck, that you hate, IS NOT SAFE. You can lose any job. You will change jobs, you will likely even change careers. Go after what you love, what gets you fired up, what gives you purpose. That is the only safe job.

Back to things being hard even when you like them. Growth hurts. When you want a flat stomach so that you look hot at the beach, you workout, and it hurts, that's how you know that it's working. Life is the same way..... growth hurts. Your stomach will churn, you might want to throw up or cry, that's not always bad. Feel it, acknowledge that you're growing, and then take the next step forward.

When making goals, decide how you want to feel , and then do things that make you feel that way. Do not get caught up in getting a huge house, a fancy car, and being rich. You may get there and realize that it's not what you wanted at all.

If you want to feel free, figure out what makes you feel that way, and then take steps everyday to get there. If you want to feel rich, then takes steps to what makes you feel rich, it's different for everyone.

Do not be mediocre.

This is a hard one, as most schools and jobs try to make everyone mediocre. You're going to have to fight. Be clear of your purpose and don't compromise.

This one is for the ladies:

You are beautiful, enjoy it, embrace it, and don't be afraid to be feminine. But that doesn't mean that you have to put up with being hit on, winked at, or flirted with. You are as smart and as good as the men that you work with. You will likely be treated differently than your male counterparts. Stand up for yourself, stand your ground..... it will be uncomfortable...... do it anyway.

No one owes you anything. Not your parents, your friends, your teacher, or your employer.

If you make a mistake, own it, learn from it, move forward.

If you fail, by the way you will if you're fighting to grow, own the failure ( don't blame it on others), understand that failure isn't bad, as long you learned, and keep moving forward.

Be kind to others always
. You might not want to, you might think that it doesn't matter ( it does).

Ask for help when you need it. Most people are actually pretty nice and want you to succeed. But you're going to have to ask, and then graciously accept what they offer.

Be grateful everyday, even if it's a really bad day, find something to be grateful for.

Know that there are more people cheering you on, and hoping that all of your dreams come true than you will ever know.


Photo by Jake McClellan