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Friday marked the end of my 26th year as a teacher in public education. It was my husband’s 30th year as a public-school band teacher. This end of the school year felt different for a variety of reasons. My best teacher friend retired, our district couldn’t reach an agreement on teacher contract negotiations for the first time in 20 years, and this entire year just felt hard. I was talking to my husband on the second to last day, and I said, “Maybe I just don’t know how to do this anymore.” That is a bit of a problem since I still have seven years to go to receive my full retirement benefits. My first eight years were in another state, so those years don’t count toward my Montana teacher retirement. Plus, I’d like us to pay off our house before retirement since once we do retire, our income will be reduced by almost half. When I do finally retire, I want to be able to afford to really retire and travel and enjoy time with family without having to worry about money too much.

My frustration when I was talking to my husband that day stemmed from a variety of things, but mostly, it was from one negative review from a student about me, my class, and my teaching. I always have students evaluate my class at the end of the year. I ask them to tell me what they liked or what helped them learn, and I also ask them to give me suggestions about what I could change for the next year. I value their responses, and what they say always causes me to make some changes for the next year. I don’t allow them to be anonymous in their responses because my goal isn’t to provide an opportunity for students to be mean. (Teachers have feelings too.) But there’s always one, it seems, every year. Some student will reveal exactly how much they just really did not like you, your teaching, and they really just seem to hate you. Sometimes it comes as a surprise because you thought you had a good relationship with that student, and sometimes you’re not surprised because you had a hard time liking that student as well. It happens. So, I got 100 plus positive reviews, but that one angry, mean one still got under my skin that day, and it made me question whether I was cut out for this teaching thing anymore.

Fortunately, the last day of school brought me back around to feeling like I’m not done just yet, and it was because of the yearbook this year. Students received them the morning of the last day of school, as usual. What was unusual was the number of students who purchased yearbooks this year and how into signing yearbooks they all were this year. In recent years it has seemed like students just really didn’t care about yearbooks anymore, and some years, the school ordered too many and were left with boxes of excess yearbooks. This year they nearly ran out.

During first period on the last day, the entire 6th grade (over 300 students) went down to the gym to receive PE awards and to have some time for students to sign yearbooks. They put on music, and students spent the next hour signing away. They were really into it this year. So many had yearbooks, and they were very engaged in the whole process.

Teachers usually sit on the stage at that time, and students come over to get teacher signatures too. This year, the entire time, there was a line of students wanting me to sign their yearbook. I wrote a note to each of them and tried to make each one special and specific to that student. In the middle of signing, I noticed that one of my most difficult students was in line, about 10 students back, to get me to sign his yearbook. I couldn’t believe it. That student and I had struggled for most of the year. We started out well. Even when other teachers were having a hard time with that student, we seemed to get along great. That all changed somewhere around mid-year. He started acting up in class and I had to move his seat. He was terrible when subs were in the room. I tried heart-to-heart talks with him, holding him accountable, removing him from some situations, and nothing worked. By the end of the year, I felt as though I had failed with that student, but there he was, waiting in line for at least 15 minutes to have me sign his yearbook.

When he finally reached the front of the line, I signed his yearbook, and I asked him to sign mine. I wrote a note to him about a good memory I had at the beginning of the year of him. Later, when I read my yearbook, he had written, “I hope you have the best summer ever!” Nothing mean. Just a well wish for a happy summer. He held no grudge, and even with all our struggles with each other, he still cared about remembering me by having me sign his yearbook.

It got me thinking about the students who make teaching hard sometimes. They still need love. They still want us to like them. And they appreciate what we’re trying to do to help them do better. Reading student comments brought me back around at the end of a tough year, and they’ll be in my mind as I get ready for the next one. Here are some of my favorite comments.

“I love the way you teach. You are always so organized and put together! You have inspired me so much, and one day, I want to become a teacher too!”

“Your class was great, and you always had the best lessons. You’re the best teacher ever, and I’m so glad I was in your class!” (This was from a student who was so shy and rarely spoke all year.)

“You have helped me with my writing, and it has improved so much. I can’t thank you enough for helping me transition into a public school for the first time.”

“One of my all-time favorite teachers.” (This from a student who I went rounds with on an almost daily basis, but I could tell we both did really appreciate each other.)

“We are gonna miss you! Have a great summer! (I thought this student hated me. He always had a smirk on his face and would whisper to his neighbor while I was teaching. Maybe he wasn’t making fun of me all year after all.)

“ILYSM! (As a teacher, of course.) You’re amazing! HAGS! 2 good + 2 be = 4 gotten” (Translation for Those Not Familiar with Middle School Speak: “ILYSM” = I love you so much! “HAGS” = Have a great summer!)

“I will miss you. You helped me get back into writing!” (This is from my best writer this year. She sometimes struggled socially, but writing is her superpower! I fully expect to be reading her published work someday.)

“Thank you for always keeping the class in line and for all your help.” (I tried. 😊)

“You are my favorite teacher!”

So, because of the middle school yearbook, this year ended on a positive note for me, and I needed that. This summer I plan to relax, refresh, rejuvenate, and hopefully enter the next school year with a positive outlook that will see me through another seven years. I just need to remember that when going gets tough, all students still need teachers who believe in them and who show up for them even when it’s hard.

To all of the teachers, students, parents, and everyone out there, I hope you have the best summer ever!

♥Mrs. Handford