This week we started a new school year and I felt a great surge of affection for my past students and greeted them enthusiastically only to either get a brush off as we went about our business or to feel like I was blowing them off because I had to greet the new students walking through my door. I have learned that most people have a relational bandwidth of 120-150 people, so the chances of me being able to build relationships with my colleagues, my friends and family (personal life? what's that?) and with 180+ students every single year while still maintaining close relationships with last year's students... well, as you can see, the numbers just won't work. I have to be able to let them go.
Students have to let us go too. Those who hold too tightly to high school don't seem to be very successful adults. You know that guy who is 40 and still bragging about that touchdown reception from his senior year? Yeah, no one really likes to hear that story for 22 years; it's time to move on. Occasionally I accept friend requests on Facebook after they graduate and it's fun to see reports of what's happening as they go through college and begin careers and families. But it's rare to stay in regular face to face contact once a student has left my class to move on to the next year. As professionals, we all would say that it's appropriate to let go.
But what kind of person welcomes such a large group of people into her life every August and works tirelessly to build close relationships with as many of them as possible in order to effectively support their learning and growth only to say goodbye in May and watch them walk out of her life? Maybe this is why I invite so many to join my AP Chemistry class the next year. But then at graduation, after all the hugs and high-fives, it's time to move on.
Every year I get abandoned all over again. I see names on work exemplars, see photos from class, hear their voices recorded in video podcasts - I can recall something special and distinctive about my students even if it was nearly 20 years ago that I taught them (and maybe I don't remember their name at first, but I remember their story). The emotional labor of building relationships and losing relationships every year is a unique to the teacher's job description. We have special training on how to build better relationships with our students. It's time to acknowledge that we also have to let go of so many special people that make a deep impact in our lives, leaving my heart cratered and pock-marked and full beyond measure.
If you are a former student, know that the teachers with whom you truly connected enjoy hearing from you more than you'll ever realize. We also know that it's important for you to move on, so we are willing to let you go. Stay in touch, or don't - you are under no obligation to do so. We still love you just the same.
This blog post was written after the first week of school and in response to this article http://the-toast.net/2015/07/13/emotional-labor/ shared during #flipclass chat by @guster4lovers. Join the conversation Monday nights at 8pm ET, use #flipclass.