How to Say Goodbye

When my youngest was still in elementary school, she began the countdown to summer vacation with so much eager anticipation that one would have thought she hated school.

She didn’t. She just loved summer, too. This was evidenced by the fact that each year, on the last day of school, she would step off of the school bus and promptly burst into tears, right in the middle of the street.

“I’m going to miss my teacher,” she’d whisper. “I’m going to miss my friends.”

I was reminded of this each day this week as friends posted photos of their masked faces from inside of the classrooms they left frozen in amber so many weeks ago. March’s lunch count remained scribbled on whiteboards. Windows were still dressed with shamrocks.

None of you expected this, and neither did your students.

Last week, a friend messaged me on social, asking if I’d be willing to write today’s post. I didn’t want to disappoint her. I don’t want to disappoint you, either. Everyone seems to be asking how to say goodbye to the students they never had enough time with this year.

Who knows if this will help. I’m not sure what will, right now.

For what it’s worth, I’m finding that writing into all of this uncertainty is rather grounding. The last week felt harder than those that came before it, here in COVID times. If there was any kind of bargaining inside of my grief cycle, I’ve moved past that for now. This is feeling like reality, and it isn’t one that I or anyone chose.

So, I’m choosing to keep writing and sharing and showing up where I can, and I’m going to keep doing the work I love for the people I love, no matter what. I hope that you are, too.

This is how we take care of each other.


How to say goodbye:

 

Say goodbye in a way that lets your students know you really saw them, even if it was only for a little while. 

  • Send them handwritten letters by snail mail, and include a self-addressed stamped envelope and a bit of paper, too. Invite them to write back to you.
  • Visit their homes to deliver small gifts or certificates or–even better–notebooks for journal keeping.  Identify and recognize their strengths. Take a selfie by the front door, even as you keep your distance. Give them these photos, so that they might remember you there, celebrating them on their doorsteps.
  • Make a personalized Zoom background for each of your students. Make sure it reflects what you notice about them, and focus on the good.
  • Use Flipgrid to create an appreciation circle for each learner, and invite every classmate to contribute to each one.
  • Host a final 1:1 check-in with each student and their family members. Use this as a time to share the best of what each child brought into your life and your classroom this year.

 

Say goodbye in a way that invites your students to share their feelings and the most important things they’ve learned from spending time together. 

  • Invite each to create a slide deck of their own, using images and words and music and voice-overs that bring their interpretations of the year to life. Consider pasting them together inside a single deck that reveals the full complexity of every students’ experience.
  • Create a virtual memory board where students might add images, videos, and links to other artifacts that memorialize the year behind them.
  • Ask them for their feedback, and circle back to tell them exactly how you’re listening.
  • Encourage them to film welcome videos for next year’s students, sharing their advice and inspiring them, too.
  • Invite writers to compose the first entries in the notebooks you will gift to NEXT year’s students. Ask them to reflect on the most rewarding things they’ve learned about BEING a writer this year. Let them know that their entries will inspire the next generation of writers who will occupy your space.

 

Say goodbye in a way that lets them know you’re always with them, and that if they need you, you’ll still be there. 

  • Ask them what they’d like to read, and fill a little free library with those books. Tuck notes inside of them, and invite readers to write back. Keep it stocked throughout the summer.
  • Create a reflection room like my friend Reyna Texler did. This is beautiful.
  • Build a gnome home or a fairy garden in your front yard or on school grounds. Invite your students to add to it, write about it, and leave notes for the magical creatures who live there. Share updates through social media or your district’s preferred channels.
  • Host a weekly virtual meetup to play games or watch movies together.
  • Read them bedtime stories. Audio record a book that they can listen to as they fall asleep. Your voice matters here. Let them pick the story. And I have it on good authority that teenagers appreciate this as much as little kids.

 

Say goodbye in a way that fills them with hope. 

  • Make your final “theme week” about committing random acts of kindness. Inspire your students to do this daily, and invite them to share their good work. Those who give tend to receive a greater lift than the recipients of such kindnesses.
  • Invite a special visitor or two or three to your final virtual meetups of the year. Whether they get to meet next year’s teachers, a favorite author, or a local artist–introduce your students to humans who are focused on their futures and encouraging them to embrace what’s next. Remind them that this won’t last forever, and that friendly faces will be waiting to welcome them back as soon as we are all able to come together again.
  • Build a summer bucket list full of creative things to learn or do or make. Invite your students to contribute to it, and encourage them to connect with others who share their interests, too.
  • Share Some Good News of your own, and encourage your students to do the same throughout the summer.
  • Engage them in an authentic and beautifully aesthetic end of the year reflective experience. Gamestorm the process. Encourage them to use the product as they apply for jobs, internships, voluntary experiences, scholarships, grants, or other future endeavors.

I hope that if you have other ideas to share, you’ll add them in the comments below or come find me on Facebook or Twitter. I have no idea how to say goodbye to the students you were separated from in the middle of a global pandemic. No one covered this in undergrad or graduate school, and even the last twenty five years couldn’t have prepared us well for this moment.

Let them know you love them and that you’re easy to find.

Let them love you back right now, too.


Are you a writing teacher who is looking for a bit of camaraderie, the opportunity to share the challenges you’re facing, and a few brilliant minds to help you overcome them? I’ve been hosting a meetup each Sunday evening at 7 pm EST on Zoom. If you’d like to participate, just join my mailing list. The invite will be included in this Sunday’s newsletter, along with a bunch of other goodies that you might enjoy. Subscribe here.

My new digital course is live now, too. You may participate asynchronously or upgrade to join myself and others for weekly live sessions and debriefs. Individual memberships are available as well as site licenses. You can learn more and see the course overview for Make Writing: Supporting Multimodal Composition Up Close and Across the Distance here. Our weekly live sessions begin the week of June 15th, so register soon if you’d like to join this cohort.


All Images: Copyright Laura Stockman, 2020

 

2 Comments

  1. Angela, you’ve shared valuable advice about a unique situation. The bond students form with their teachers is unique and the “leaving” deserves the TLC the “arriving” was afforded. Shiny name tags and pointy pencils, fresh bulletin boards and welcome signs above the classroom doors are now being replaced by video messages and end-of-the-year send-offs. These are the important ones. Teachers were asked to do the unimaginable this year and they did it. They will always be an asset in their students’ lives.

    “Say goodbye in a way that lets them know you’re always with them, and that if they need you, you’ll still be there.”

    I think this is the most important of all. You teachers shared an experience no one has ever shared and they made it through. What a team you made. Celebrate that and remind kids that you will be there no matter how old they get. I made that promise to my 1st graders each year. Many have been in touch over the years, 40 years to be exact, during good times and bad…they remembered I made a promise and I kept it.

    Saying a proper good-bye is part of being a teacher. This post of Angela’s is everything. EVERYTHING. You’ve all heard it said that the kids won’t remember all of what you taught them, but they’ll remember how you made them feel. This is the time, these are the suggestions that will help you do that. A job well done…all of you.

    • Angela says:

      There is so, so much to celebrate. You’re right, Sandy. I think it’s easy to forget this because it wasn’t what we expected or wanted, and there is so much that we can’t control or make better right now. But celebration is in order. Your words mean so much. I hope that others echo them far and wide as teachers wrap up this school year. They need a lot of love right now, too.

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