The Art of Losing

Approximate reading time:3 minutes
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
-Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”

This past week we had finals, and once those were over I had to do what I’ve been dreading for the past month. I told my students that I was moving to another school.

The first class I told was mostly seniors, so I thought they’d just shrug their shoulders since they wouldn’t be there next year anyway. Well, they looked at me like I’d told them Santa Claus wasn’t real and that their new puppy got sent to the farm! I was surprised and touched by their reaction, though I wonder if they’re just having separation anxiety in general as they approach the end of high school. I’ve had a decent rapport with this class all year but their overall performance and behavior suggest that they never quite took me or my class seriously. (Maybe I misinterpreted them, because the next day was my birthday and apparently one of the math teachers, who had many of them in class the period before me, told them to wish me happy birthday, so they all trooped in yelling “Happy birthday!” and I got quite a few nice notes written on my boards.)

The next class I told was my smallest, a group of just 8 students. I’ve struggled all year to maintain a “class” atmosphere since such low numbers, in my experience, tend to make kids think it’s third period social hour. They immediately rushed me for a group hug, including one of my seniors who is my only failing student this year. She’s had a rough year and has been acting out in reaction for the better part of second semester. But these last few weeks she’s perked up a little and actually turned in her final project, which is pretty much the only assignment she’s completed this semester. And apparently something positive from my constant gentle prodding sank in, because she left me this:

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Eventually I got around to my first period class.(Schedules were all screwy last week because of exams.) I know that we teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites, but it was impossible for me not to fall in love with this group. Consisting primarily of cosmetology students with two students from the nursing program, they arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed every morning. That’s quite an accomplishment for a first period class! They were always willing to roll with whatever scheme I’d cooked up for the day (and there were a few spectacular flops this year, believe me!) and never complained or whined. (Another big accomplishment for any group of high-schoolers, much less a first period class.)

No sooner had I started to tell them when I realized that, while I’d made it through all my other classes without crying, I wasn’t going to make it through this one. And being the sensitive people-people that they are, nearly the entire class burst into tears along with me. So that was terribly un-fun, but I managed to tell them how scared I’d been on the first day of school that I wouldn’t be able to handle teaching, and how their patience, perseverance, and positive attitude had changed everything for me. As we hugged each other, they told me they’d miss me but were happy that I could work closer to home, and that night a student was already e-mailing me to ask how to keep in touch so she could invite me to her graduation party next year.

This has always been an emotional time of year for me. One of the occupational hazards of teaching is getting to know 30 or 100 different personalities, only to let them go at the end of nine months. This year is my first having a significant number of seniors, and watching them prepare to fly off is gratifying, humbling, and wrenching all at the same time. Some of them won’t fully make it out of the nest. Some will stumble and crash and some won’t get up after crashing. Others will soar on their first try. There’s no way of telling who will end up where, and most will not keep in touch so I’ll never know. I just have to trust what I tell those who are anxious about the next step: this is just the beginning and the best is yet to come.

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