Intermediate schools are strange beasts.
The students only attend for Year 7 and 8 yet it is a major transition points. The kids arrive fresh from primary school swimming in uniforms that always seem a size too big. At the end of the next year the same kids leave as teeangers bound for high school and those uniforms look like they have shrunk in the wash.
During those two years alongside teaching the formal curriculum a lot of an intermediate teacher’s time is spent helping students manage relationships. We help the students build friendships when they arrive, in the middle we help them maintain friendships and at the end we help our students say goodbye. December is a hugely emotional time in intermediate as half the students are leaving while the other half are saying goodbye to their mates.
The process of farewelling the Year 8s in my class actually started back in January. At the start of term 1 I decided that kids would interview each other about their experiences of school. I thought it might be an interesting keepsake and alternative way to tell a learning story alongside the formal school reports
What I was unprepared for was as I started listening to the footage from the kids was that collective a narrative of school. I found myself frustrated by the one word answers a lot of my students were giving. I realized that while the interviewing skills needed to improved, the beginning of the year footage was merely a reflection of where the students were at emotionally.
They weren’t ready to share their thoughts with their peers.
During the year the students interviewed each other at the end of each term. While I scaffolded some questions, the questioning was all from the kids. As the year went on topics started to diverge and personalities started to emerge. I then put together the footage as 18 minute film. Video proved to be a powerful medium to not only hear thoughts but see the physical changes that happen to the students in the 10 months we were together as a class.
At the end of the year while our year 8 students were off getting tested and orientated at our college the Year 7s and I planned a special video farewell for the students leaving. The hardest part was keeping our plan a secret until the last day. It was very cool to watch the Year 8s reactions seeing the video. Each one of them had a similar smile pasted on their face and knowledge that they were important to us and that their presence in the school mattered.
This year also marked the end of my time at my school.
People outside of teaching don’t appreciate how emotionally demanding the job can be. Your job is to make 28 kids feel that their successes and challenges matter.
But there in lies the rub.
By internalizing the injustices some students suffer, especially those that happen outside school, teachers quickly burn out. Over the year you’ll laugh at your students’ jokes, talk through behaviour problems, cry alongside them in speeches, share your lunch with a child who has none and high five that time when concept you’ve been working on for weeks finally clicks.
And then at the end of the year, it comes to an end. The students you spend time laughing with, going into bat for, and on occasion giving the death stare suddenly disappear.
You are replaceable.
Nevertheless what you doin you classroom matters, to your students, to your colleagues, to the community you serve.
Make sure you take the time to say goodbye well.