Saturday, February 28, 2015

Leaving the Classroom

In October 1999, I came to BTW Magnet midyear. February, 2015, I left BTW, also midyear. The students have been everything I could hope for in a lot of ways. Yeah, there were frustrations, problems, etc. But today was an amazing send-off by the students, with the help of a lot of my faculty colleagues and it typifies why this school can be an amazing place to work.

As I walked across the parking lot, a trumpet started playing "Taps." I told the trumpeter I wasn't dead and was told that I better not be, there was a lot ahead. As I turned the corner on the stairs, I was greeted with abut 50 students with cameras out and a huge banner. After a couple of emotional words, I went into the classroom, which had nearly 50 Diet Coke two-liters scattered around the room, a huge bag of Lemonheads and what seemed to be a 55 gallon drum of soft peppermints. My kids and colleagues know me so well.

Teary and emotional students brought me cards and letters all day. One insisted that her letter should be read aloud. There had been a sign up sheet for students to claim 15 minute intervals all day to text goodbye messages. Sure enough, every fifteen minutes another batch of texts came through. Some funny, some well wishing, some dripping with emotion.

I gave a little farewell to each class. I told them that this is conceivably the last day I stand in front of a class full of teenagers, and that I knew last night whatever I said would be eclipsed by a discussion of the dress and its colors. So I embraced it and used it to demonstrate the idea that reality is a social construct. Yes the dress itself was blurple (bluish/purple) and black, but the picture of the dress wasn't that cut and dry. It existed at a crazy crossroads of rods and cones, picture exposure, the way pixels work and data compression so that people would see it obviously one way or another and they weren't wrong. I told them success in life was the same way, that only they could define what made their life a success and they would be right about it. What they saw as success is what it was and they should fight for their vision of it. But additionally, even though I saw gold and white, I could tilt the picture or squint and see the blurple and black. Not only that, but the shade of blurple was a my favorite shade of purple. I attempted to see someone else's perspective and was rewarded for it. During the day I got a couple of tears from that talk and was told that was the sort of thing they would miss.

My first block had a little party, with cake, donuts, chips, etc. Second block was low key with farewells from students and visitors. Third block I left campus for a few minutes to meet many of my new colleagues, then I returned to cake and visits with my faculty, many of whom I have worked with for 15 years.

The final block of the day, a group of about 20 chorus students came in and sang an original composition about excellence and inspiration that was upbeat and energetic. Shortly after, they called all the seniors to the Blue Room auditorium and then a lone senior showed up and my door demanding my presence. As I walked into the Blue Room, every senior was there and they sat me in the middle of the room in a chair. All of a sudden all of the questions I had received all weeks about my favorite pop song and old school hip hop made sense as 90 seniors serenaded me with "Firework" (I just saw The Interview and it has been stuck in my head ever since) and a PG13 edit of "Big Poppa." Then one senior took the lead and was then joined on the chorus by the rest of the seniors for "Stay With Me." They wanted me to "do a song!" after I said a few words and so I got all cheesy for them and hit the chorus of "End of the Road." Luckily they all knew it because I only knew the first two lines.

Afterwards were snacks and pictures and cards and tears and hugs and a huge card signed by all of the seniors. The notes and cards from my students say the sort of things I would dream students would write about me, about knowledge and curiosity and inspiration and dedication.

Back to class for the last few minutes and suddenly I heard the band, standing in the hall playing Auld Lang Syne. As the bell rang a steady procession of students came by keeping me there for pictures and hugs and good-byes.

I have been at BTW longer than I was in school. And today was a perfect example of why I was comfortable staying there.

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