Here we are, the last day of school.
Not for all of you, I understand. Many of you no doubt left school behind many years ago and never looked back. Me, I got sucked back in and am now helping (?) today’s students to leave school in their rear view mirrors. High school at least.
It’s a weird feeling. I’ve been a teacher for three years before this year, but this is my first time teaching students who are actually graduating and actually leaving conventional schooling behind. But don’t worry, I’m not going to wax rhapsodic or philosophic or catatonic about the joys and mysteries of teaching.
Rather, inspired by a colleague of mine, I’m going to share a letter I’m writing to a student. Not a specific student. But rather, I’m writing to that student. That student that every teacher knows, that student who, in fact, everybody in the building knows, and whom we are not allowed to tell what we actually think of him (or her).
Again, I don’t feel this way for 99% of my students. This one is special.
Psst. Hey. You. Yeah, you. I need to tell you something.
You’re graduating today, and that’s fantastic. Really, I’m happy for you, and that’s not facetiery. Yes, I just made that word up. If you can’t figure out what it means, maybe you need to take my class again. Anyway, hand to my heart, I’m happy for you. But not for the reason you think.
No, I’m happy because it means I’m done with you. I know, I know. You’re done with me, too, and you’re done with all of your teachers and blah, blah, blah. But I just want you to understand the depths of my feelings on the matter. See, you think you know about hating somebody. You’re, what, eighteen years old? And you think you hate this teacher or that ex-friend or whoever for something they “did” to you. But you don’t know what that word means. I’m over thirty. I’ve lived through enough situations to know the many subtle levels, the onion-peels of unpleasantry that can stink up a relationship between two people. I know about dislike, about frustration, about disappointment, about mistrust, I know about shock and betrayal, I know about that thing you get with people where you can’t quite put your finger on it but man, does that person grate your nerves, and what I feel for you is none of those things. Or, maybe to be more fair, it’s all of those things, and the English language just sadly does not have the proper Word for all of that yet.
What I have for you is an adult hatred, and I’m a little embarrassed to say that, because it feels like a failing on my part. I shouldn’t feel this way about a young person. I shouldn’t let the actions of somebody with enough experience to fill a teacup get the better of my emotions, but you’ve done it, and for that I suppose you deserve some sort of commendation.
You’ve lied. I know it and you know it. You’ve lied to me, to your parents, to your other teachers, probably to the administrators too, about matters great and small, significant and shallow, for ends as lofty as getting extra time on an assignment and as pitiful as running to the restroom.
You’ve cheated. I know it and you know it. You’re not as smart as the grade you’ve earned, and I know that you have no idea what half of the words on that last Macbeth quiz even meant, but somehow you aced it and I just can’t prove otherwise.
You’ve manipulated. I know it and you know it. All the people you lied to, you lied to manipulate. Whether to gain some bizarre psychological advantage or whether to just make yourself feel fancy, you managed to convince me to do something I didn’t want to do, whether it was letting you out of class or turning in an assignment late.
You’ve disappointed me. You had (have) so much potential, but it’s wasted in you right now, it really is. You’ve had so many opportunities to do the right thing and chosen the other way, had so many chances to redeem yourself with me and let me down. I just can’t take it anymore.
You’ve betrayed me. Thanks to your lies, there was a time when I had your back and you didn’t know it. A time when I put myself out there for you and stuck up for you, and you made me feel like a fool for it.
All of that’s bad enough, but you know what the worst part is? The fact that you think it’s cool. Even today, you came up to me and talked to me like we were old pals, you had the nerve to ask me a favor. Pardon me for laughing in your face. I just couldn’t help myself.
But all of that Sharknado between you and me? It’s okay. I’m angry with you, I’m furious with myself for letting you get the better of me, but it’s okay, because it’s passing. Like a kidney stone, I’m pissing you out to flush you. And when you cross that stage, we are done.
All of it means nothing. The lies you told, the disappointments, the betrayals of trust, it’s all like so many mosquitoes trapped in amber. Because you’re going into the real world now. And when you try that Sharknado in the real world, it’s going to rebound on you harder than you can ever imagine. You’re going to say the wrong thing to the wrong guy and get your asgard punched through a wall. You’ll try to manipulate your boss at work and you’ll get fired in a heartbeat. You’ll cheat your boss or you’ll cheat your wife or your friend and you’ll lose your job or your relationship or your last friend. The world is not high school, and it’s going to be a rude awakening for you.
If I could torpedo one kid, if I could wave a wand and stop you from graduating, if I could blow up your life and your plans, I would do it. I’d stand with my finger over the button, watching you squirm, beg, and plead, and I’d push it with relish and gusto. But I can’t and I won’t. Not for the reasons you think; not because I’m afraid of losing my job, not because I don’t have the authority. It’s because I have integrity. I know that’s another word you don’t understand because you don’t have it and can’t even conceive of it. But it means I have a sense of personal responsibility, I have a sense of right and wrong, I have care and concern for the way my actions affect the world around me. By whatever crooked means, by whatever disingenuous contrivance, you have earned your graduation and I wouldn’t stand in its way. I can watch you go, safe in the knowledge that even though you won this round, your comeuppance is not far off. Don’t know that word either? Yeah, I thought not.
But there’s one last thing I want you to know. As you look around yourself on this day, you’ll notice a lot of your classmates smiling, laughing, crying. You might smile and laugh too, but not for the same reasons. See, this has all been one big joke for you, and now it’s over, and the crowd is going home and going on with their lives, and you’ll have nobody left to tell your jokes to. But if you look my way, you might just see me smile back for you one last time. And that smile will be genuine. Because this is the last time I have to see you. And that fills me with a buoyant, radiant joy.
Have a nice life.
I feel better. Happier programming will return tomorrow. And in all seriousness, congrats to the class of 2014. I’ll miss most of you.