And to their parents, too.
Senior Year is not easy for any of us.
You want so badly to be gone, but you are terrified to go. (I know you won’t admit it, but we know it to be true.)
Your parents want you to spread your wings, but they are terrified to let you go. (You know they won’t admit it, but part of you believes it to be true.)
The teachers want the best for every one of the students, but they get mad at you for leaving. You’ve become part of our family too. (You think we can’t stand you and we want to retire, and if we retire this year, it’s because of you. It’s not. We actually love you dearly.)
It’s a pretty painful cycle no matter how you cut it.
In all of these ways, there may be variations, or different sets of circumstances, and it might be that my experience is different from the high school experience of teachers at a hundred other schools across the nation. But after twenty years of doing this with seniors and their parents and other teachers, I’ve come to recognize that there are very real patterns of behavior that surround the uncertainty of a child’s future. And with that, comes conflict. For all of us, really.
Compound that, this year, with a shelter at home order that shuts schools down. It foregoes any opportunity for kids, parents, teachers, support staff, administration, security guards, and any other person who might touch a student’s life to say goodbye. That cuts deeply. And for many of us, it blew our minds and even as we struggled with it, we couldn’t understand it.
But the reality of any situation, is that as a student or a parent, or even as a teacher!, navigating this uncertainty is something you have to do on your own, quarantine or not. I can’t give you a guidebook. I do, however, try to encourage you to remember that we all receive this stress differently, and we react differently depending on our own experience or upbringing. When I’m meeting my seniors for the first time, we always talk about how fast this year goes, and then we talk about what their experience with their parents might look like. Often, I have two fists pressed together to show that it is a combative relationship at best. It’s not that we will fight, but it is definitely that the tension exists for all of us. For students who often don’t have the strongest, time tested coping abilities, it can result in tears and fights. It can result in an early move-out with new expenses and new responsibilities. It can result in really bad choices and really early adult decisions. Or it can result in this really cool bonding and growing experience on a multitude of levels.
My job as an educator is to keep it from going to that nasty extreme. I would prefer students were in a pretty good place so that the learning can be engaged. Sometimes I can navigate that with them, but often they are in a place where they don’t trust me and don’t want to navigate conflict resolution and growth in coping mechanisms. This is for many reasons. Maybe they heard I was mean, or that I was soft, or that I was hard, or that I was easy. Or maybe, they don’t like how I look, or how I dress, or how I wear my hair. Or maybe, they think that they are smarter than I am, and that I have next to nothing to offer them. Or maybe they think I’m the smartest person they’ve ever met. Every situation is different.
And then there is this year. Suddenly, all of the old standards are compounded by the threat of disaster. According to one of my students, 40% of American households are one financial contingency away from bankruptcy. Now, we have a virus that has effectively shut down all the things we know. Never in my life has school been canceled. So it’s different for me, but I can only imagine how different it is for my seniors. “But this will help them be more resilient,” I keep telling myself. I hope that is true. Right now, you can only see that the last few months of your schooling is less academic, less purposeful, less hopeful. You can only see that your Prom, your senior week, and your graduation is “postponed” and worse, “canceled.” You see your senior year as canceled. You can’t compete in your favorite spring sports, your teams are “canceled.” You see that you can’t spend afternoons hanging out at your favorite coffee shops, or restaurants, and you can’t go dress shopping for that perfect Prom dress.
I can see ways you can still be unique and innovative with this experience, but that’s because I’m not faced with the devastation that happens when the dreams you’ve had since you were a little girl turn into nightmares. Because for a lot of you, that is what this is.
For now, we’ll ride this wave. You kids will come out ahead, and you will bounce back. And maybe you will create new traditions and find new ways to celebrate the milestones of life. And this is probably the greatest opportunity for you to carve new pathways in the bedrock of American heritage. This is your time to shine, to create your future, to define your meaning and purpose. I challenge you to throw the conflict away—let it rest in the past. I challenge you to redefine who you are, and become the best at what you decide fits. I wish you luck. I wish you the best. I wish you hope.
Sincerely, and with deepest love,
Wanted: a good set of sentences to grab you from the depths of the internet. I keep trying to catch your eye.