I contend that if you want to know which teachers have the best relationships with students, watch classrooms on the first day of school and the last day of school. There is an energy, an excitement on those days that is palpable. This week the best teachers are sending notes home to parents, taking pictures with their students, and putting closure on the school year. They are asking students to write letters to themselves that they will mail years later, and they are showing videos they’ve been building all year.
May is also banquet season. There are scholarship dinners, award and recognition nights, and retirement celebrations. There is chicken and iced tea and cake and dessert. There are certificates and medals and crystal apples and clocks. It’s a busy time of year and one that is not always fully appreciated. At a time that can already be stressful in schools, adding after school events and evening activities can feel like a burden instead of a gift. But this is one of the most important times of our year.
As a middle school teacher, I would read my students the same book on the last day of school every year. And years later if they’d invite me to their graduation, I would give them a copy of the book. It was a tradition. We would tell the stories from the school year and laugh and cry and write in everybody’s yearbook. It was emotionally draining, and I looked forward to it every year.
After a long season of baseball or track, after a year of competing in show choir or debate, teams celebrate with an awards banquet or a recognition night. Records are acknowledged, and trophies are presented. Parents take pictures and coaches make speeches. It is usually a very long night, and it is also a night that will be remembered for the rest of their lives.
I was having a conversation with some friends this week about retirement. We were imaging what we will want when we retire. A party? A lunch? Slipping quietly out the back door without any fanfare? We all have our opinions, but I imagine when the time actually comes, we may feel differently.
Retiring from a job, ending a sports season, or leaving elementary school is emotional, especially if you have had a positive experience. Endings can be hard. Rituals like letters home, awards banquets, and retirement parties can help. They give people a chance to celebrate the experience and in some ways to grieve the loss.
Allowing for opportunities to reflect and reminisce is important. People need the chance to relive the highlights and to retell their stories. As a school leader, be intentional about planning these events for students and staff.
May is always an emotional month in education. We are saying goodbye to our students who have become part of us, and we are saying goodbye to colleagues who have become like family. I hope that you take every opportunity to celebrate this time of year and to say goodbye. Closure matters.