As regular readers of my posts know, since my wife was diagnosed with cancer on January 27 I had not been back in the classroom at the non-profit charter middle school where I had been teaching since just before Thanksgiving. I had visited once to update the school leadership and we discussed how if at all we could go forward. From their standpoint they wanted continuity, and I was going to have to be out several days two out of every three weeks' because of my wife's chemo. And as my sister-in-law, who is a medical professional, pointed out, a school like that is a hotbed of germs and during chemo my wife will have a compromised immune system. The decision for me not to continue was a positive choice both for the school and for my wife and myself.
But then there are the students. They had only been told that I was out because my wife is sick. They had not yet been told I was not coming back. I asked to be allowed to come in and speak to them. This morning, after I packed up personal belongings and turned in my keys - all before students were around the classroom - I waited until they were in their first period and went around to each of the four classes with the 7th grade counselor.
For many of these students, they have often had adults disappear from their lives, sometimes without explanation. Insofar as any kind of connection had been formed between them and me, they were entitled to an explanation.
I went to each of the four classes.
I explained why I had been out.
I explained why I was not coming back.
I made clear I was not mad at them, nor was I being fired for being a bad teacher.
I thanked them for letting me part of their lives.
I thanked them because I learned from them just as much as they learned from me.
I gave them an opportunity to ask questions, but fo 12-15 year olds, processing what I told them was hard. In one class, with the highest functioning students, there were some questions.
Students wanted to know how she got her disease, and I answered truthfully, that we o not know what caused it.
I think it was clear that I was having some trouble keeping my composure - in just over two and half months since I first met them I have come to care deeply what happens to them, and I am proud of how much growth some of them had already shown.
The counselor will stop back in each class later today, after the kids have had time to process.
She has my email if any student wants to stay in touch.
I got some thank yous. I had one very slight 12 year old girl rush up and give me a hug.
On the way out some of the administration thanked me for having taught.
That was nice.
What was nicer was that I was able to close the loop. That I could communicate directly with my students and assure them I valued them even as I had to say goodbye.
And at least from my perspective, it was important that I thanked them.