While standing in the hallway waving goodbye to Davis Academy students headed off to enjoy their well-deserved summer vacation I observed a group of 5th grade boys joyfully singing the refrain of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.” I figured what the heck and joined with them for a chorus or two as they proudly paraded down the hallway. Many educators greet the end of the school year reluctantly, I think it’s a beautiful and important time. It’s a time that I greet with joy. Here are some of the things I love about graduation and the end of the school year.
1. Summer is to the school year what Shabbat is to the work week. It’s a necessary time that allows children, families, and educators to reflect on what has come before. Everyone involved in full time education– students, parents, teachers, and administrators eventually reach a point during the school year when the pace, the demands, the obligations, and everything that comes with a typical Fall or Spring semester is overwhelming. The fact that our work is sacred and that this sense of overwhelm affirms most educators in the importance and value of our work doesn’t change the fact that time to reflect, read up, and rejuvenate can be scarce at times. Though many of us work during the summer, and many kids and families keep very busy, the arrival of summer offers the possibility of meaningful perspective, truly self-directed personal and professional growth, and a chance to be intentional about our aspirations for the upcoming year.
2. Students teach us a bold and enduring lesson as they look forward to and embrace summer. It’s not that they don’t love school, their teachers, and their classmates. It’s simply that they resiliently and optimistically look toward the future. They embrace growth and change. We might not be ready (or we might be VERY ready) to let them go, but they’re ready to move on (or at least they think they are). As many adults are both consciously and unconsciously afraid of change we can look to children to find an authentic alternative that embraces change and growth. I asked a group of 5th graders if they were nervous about the transition to middle school — they said they weren’t and I believe them. In chatting with graduating 8th graders many expressed nervousness about leaving Davis– but they’ll all do it and greet the challenge head on.
3. Educators need to remember that our task is to inspire and empower students during the time that we have them in our care. Though the “school year” is an artificial construct, it’s one that carries with it a certain measure of wisdom. Judaism teaches, “Who is truly wise? Someone who learns from all people.” Each of us is meant to have many different teachers over the course of our lives. The unique “Torah” that each of us has to teach is meant to be shared with many different people. Stated differently, each of us is meant to have many students. Relationships typically don’t die, they change. Our students of today will become our alumni of tomorrow. They will find new teachers who will give them new insights and present them with new challenges. At the same time we will welcome new students and the “Torah” that we teach will evolve and change as we navigate through our lives and our careers.
Graduation and the end of the school year are unavoidable facts that all educators know well. That they cannot be avoided is a blessing to students and teachers alike. It’s humbling to know that we have one another for a finite period of time, that despite our best efforts our work will remain imperfect and incomplete, and our relationships will grow and evolve. These are existential truths that all people experience. As educators we get to experience them head on and try to glean the wisdom that they offer us.