Tomorrow one of my favorite students ever leaves for the Air Force. He has spent the last couple of summers working for our department. He also managed our Genius Bar and helped me fix random tech issues. He made me laugh and never flinched when I would ask him a favor. He is the kind of kid you pray your own children to grow up to be like. Kind-hearted, and sweet, he never failed to make me smile.
When his summer tech position ended through the department, he asked if he could continue working for us. I wanted to allow it so badly, unfortunately, we didn’t have a board-approved position for him to take. So instead of being irritated that he did all that work and couldn’t continue, he came back to volunteer and would spend nearly every day at the elementary working with kids, reading to them, and fixing their tech. For free. He has no interest in education, no reason to be there besides just to help. When he could have been playing XBox for the last few months before leaving for boot camp, he gave back to the schools with expecting nothing in return.
Tomorrow he leaves and today I spent trying not to cry. I used every strategy I knew during the Veteran’s Day Celebration when they recognized him for everything he has done for the school. I bit my lip. I took deep breaths until I thought I would pass out. It didn’t matter. Crying was inevitable. I think about the people who don’t come back from military service the same physically and mentally. I think about his sweet personality and how I don’t want it to change. And knowing it possibly will, I am crushed. So proud of the boy who is making a choice that I would never have the guts to do, but still so devastated.
As I was thinking about this on the way home and how deeply wounded I felt by this former student leaving, I was thankful for the discomfort and sadness because it meant that even through some of the irritation with my position or the areas where our system lacks in general or the constant, exhausting work of being an educator, I know I still belong here because anything that affects a person this deeply means you really care. When you have students that leave and you cry, it also means that at points they made you equally as happy. While you hope that you have affected their lives, you know they have affected yours. And this raw emotion that students can cause…that is why we teach: those connections that are so deep that it causes physical pain when you’re afraid something may happen to them. We are so lucky to work in an environment where we have the chance to make connections that can cause such an emotional effect because the alternative is working through our days feeling numb, and I would choose to feel any day.
So tomorrow he’ll leave and today I’ll be sad, but I’ll also try to find some solace in the knowledge that the pain is there because I made a connection, and without those feelings, I wouldn’t be an educator.