Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The last day of school

This teacher of the year journey has been incredible - speeches, presentations, meetings, being part of the big conversation. One thing has been missing - my students at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale, New Jersey.

I had to go back before the seniors left to graduate.

My chance came on Thursday. I hadn't wanted to come in during the year since my hard-working substitute teacher, Betty, was trying to get the day-to-day work of class done. I didn't want to come in and disrupt her, but now, the time was quickly approaching for all of my seniors to graduate. I didn't have much time.

Luckily, when I left. my classes were divided between two teachers. The teacher of the seniors, Dr. Dianne Bono, was on an educational trip to China, so it would be perfect for me to come in for those classes.

I walked into my old classroom and a couple of kids burst into joyful applause. "I was dreaming you'd come and you did," one girl said.

Another boy seemed sullen. He didn't look up. Later, he told me why.

"I was mad at you - you left us!"

"And now, do you forgive me?"

"Yeah, we're cool."


It felt normal being back with the kids. It was like being in my own living room. These kids are my people. We understand each other.

That night, I went to graduation and heard a few of them speak. Sam said that you should use your talents to the max in this life. Jackie outlined the triumphs of the senior class. Melanie pitted herself up against the standard graduation speeches which talk about "the best class" and "the most special people" and sought meaning for herself and her peers. Michael, the Valdictorian, exhorted his peers to keep trying even though life will inevitably throw a few failures their way.

Highlands "Voices" sang beautifully and Joe Occhino, our new principal, poignantly gave voice to a poem he once heard at a graduation. He swore, when he had heard it, that if he ever became a principal of his own school, he would use that poem. We all were there to hear him do it.

That school is my home base right now. In September, when I pass the "crown" to the new New Jersey Teacher of the Year, I'll go back into my Spanish classroom. I'll play some Spanish music and we'll greet each other with enthusiasm. Most of all, we'll be real and the kids will teach me as much as I can teach them.

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