Yesterday was the last day of class for the seniors at my high school. That meant I had to say goodbye to students that I've taught every day for the past 3 or 4 years. I've developed a few ideas for how to do this in a meaningful way and have found that they work well. I've become convinced that starting well and ending well are crucial for success in the classroom. And ending well helps you to leave a legacy that your students will remember. Here's what has worked for me:
- Communicate your love. This is the time to speak from the heart. If you've built a good rapport with your students, they will listen. You've earned the right to speak truth and love into their lives, so don't miss the opportunity to do so. I tell my students how much they've meant to me and how much I love them and what my wishes are for their futures. I remind them of how much they matter. This is difficult for me because I am not ever able to get through this without choking up and crying. But to me, this is even more important than all the French I've taught them, and so I do it. And many of them often end up crying as well. I will tell you this, fellow teachers: students respond to love.
- Take a walk down memory lane. This is the perfect time to reminisce together about all the good times you've had in class. I make a slide show with photos I've taken of their class starting with when they were in French I and going through French III or IV. I also include some reminders about how far they've come in their language skills. The background music I use for this presentation is always "It's You I Like" by Fred Rogers.
- Honor each individual student. Say something uniquely positive and true about each student in front of the whole class. I use an idea that I stole from my daughter's teacher when she was in elementary school called Paper Plate Awards. You give each student an award, written on a paper plate, but each award is different. For example, my daughter was given the "brightest smile" award. I wrote a few words that described each student on their paper plates.
- Give them something to remember you by. I made a simple bookmark for each student with a famous quote from Le Petit Prince on it since we'd just finished reading it. I was surprised at how much my students appreciated this small gesture. Once I met a student for coffee several years after she'd graduated, and she showed me that she still had the bookmark in her wallet!
James Taylor said it well, " Shower the people you love with love."
I think my students left my classroom for the last time feeling loved and valued, and that means that I made a difference. That's what teaching is all about!