Thursday, April 30, 2009

On Saying Goodbye

Many thanks to Paul Larson, whose blog on goodbyes got me to thinking about this topic. 

The end of the semester is always a good time for me. By this point, many students have learned to think analytically, or write with a little more panache, or have found a favorite writer, poet, or literary work. Maybe they've learned to love reading more than they did, or maybe they've found a voice they didn't know they had.  If any of those things have happened, I feel I've done a good thing. 

Teaching writing and literature usually leads students to "confess."  This year, I taught an autobiography class, which of course led to a lot of sharing.  The book my students connected to more than any was one called Paula by Isabel Allende, a beautiful true story of a woman trying to write her young daughter out of a coma and into existence once again.  One of my students had to excuse herself from the discussion, since she was currently spending her evenings next to her terminally ill father, going through the exact stages of grief outlined in the book. Another had coached her abusive, meth-addict father through the end of his life just recently. Another had never known his father, except for a fleeting glimpse of him in the street. Another had made the decision to pull the plug on his dad's life-support machine and was still angry at himself (and, as a result, the book) for telling his father it was "ok to let go."

So, the point is that I got to know a lot about these remarkable people in a short amount of time, and just yesterday they turned in their papers and left. I'll grade them as fairly as I can, attempting to block out any connections I made with that class while I do, and then I'll post the grades and begin teaching the intersession class that looms ever closer.  But I can't shake how anticlimactic that end-of-year  -- or any -- goodbye can be.  I never have been able to, not in 7 years.

My way of dealing with goodbye as a teacher is usually just to awkwardly smile at the students as they leave and pretend this is all just part of teaching, or part of living, or maybe a little of both.  Goodbyes are on my mind quite a bit these days, really. So if I don't make a big production out of leaving you this summer, when we begin our trek east, don't think twice about it. It just means I'm not ready to let you go. 

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