Saturday, May 24, 2014

Time To Say Goodbye

This blog is, for the most part, about my life as a writer. But if you've been paying attention at all, you know that the thing I do for a living, for the moment at least, is teach. More specifically, I teach high school seniors. And I love my job. More to the point, I love my kids. I have no children of my own, but for about nine months every year, I adopt a bunch of them and love them with all my heart. I learn which ones hate themselves (almost all of them at one time or another), which ones have good home lives and which ones don't, which ones have crazy boy/girlfriends, which ones are going to do amazing things (most of them), and which ones are dealing with heartbreak (again, almost all of them at one time or another).

Which brings me to this time of year. It's so hackneyed, but this truly is a bittersweet time for me. I'm excited to see them go off to do wonderful things with their lives, but it's time to say goodbye to another set of kids I love like my own. It's genuinely hard to do. That last day is just one little heartbreak after another. Even though I'll see them again the next day at graduation rehearsal and Color Day, it will be different. They're now my former students and that unique relationship is gone. They are now in that great sea of kids who used to be mine. 

Every year, a select small group say to me that they'll be back to visit all the time and every year I nod my head and say okay. They say no, they mean it, that they'll be different than all those other kids. I just nod and say okay and hug them. And every year, with a few sparkling exceptions over the decades, they're gone. I may see them a time or two at concerts or when they come home that first year for Christmas break, but the reality is that they've moved on. I'm sure many of them have warm memories of me. Once in a while I get an email from someone who is moving and comes across his/her portfolio and, thinking of me, drops a line to say thanks. But mostly not.

And you know what? That's okay. It used to tear me up. I thought we really would be friends for life. And when we weren't, I spent a lot of time brooding and angry over it. But with age has come some perspective and a couple of lessons. First, that only hurt me, because they weren't around to notice. But second, I was wrong to expect it. Yes, the nature of the class I teach and, well, my personal nature makes the bond I share with my kids kind of an intense one. We spend a lot of time talking about literature, which is, at its core, about life and death and emotional responses to both. So while they're mine, we develop a sort of intimacy that makes it appear that we're friends. And I guess, for that short window of time, we are. 

But it's healthy that they move on in every sense of the word. Ours is a friendship for a specific period of time and then they go off to college or the military or the work world and start developing more permanent relationships. Friends and partners with whom they'll be intimate forever. 

And that's not to say I'm not friends with any of my former students. Other than biological family, some of my closest relationships are with former students. And I treasure each and every one of those friends, who have become family to me.

But mostly not. And that's okay.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Mr. Stephens, we might be forced to slowly move on sometimes because of the chaos of school and life and such but even if we don't stop by as often as we would like that doesn't mean we don't care or that we have forgotten. I know I have so many memories of high school and I thank you for helping to make my senior year very enjoyable. If it weren't for you, Chris and I might not have even started dating. Just realize and always remember that many may move on but you have helped shape us into the person we will become. Thanks! :) miss you

  3. Spelling mistakes in my first comment lol. Had to fix that for my English teacher.

  4. I know, sweetheart. That's what I'm saying. It is as it should be. I just didn't always understand that.

  5. Joe,
    Wisdom written there. That wisdom is precious, and it cost you, I know.
    I learned the same thing. And I paid about the same price you did.
    Even though I forgot you got quite a while afteryou and I graduated PSHS 81, my heart never forgot you. Hearts are like elephants, "an elephant never forgets. An elephant's faithful 100 percent.