Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Saying Goodbye

(Warning: This is a long, but I believe valuable, post. If you are short on time skip to the sections titled "Saying Goodbye" and "Goodbye Activities" these contain the most concrete advice and the least personal anecdotes. Thanks for reading.)

I know I have been terrible about keeping this Blog updated. I just have not managed to find the time, but I have kept notes on a lot of good curriculum and will be trying to post them soon.

Today was a really hard day for me, one that I need to blog about in order to process (one of the best things about having a blog) and so I am here. Last week I accepted a new position, I will be working in early intervention as a Developmental Specialist. I am really excited about this position; I will be getting paid full time (maybe one day I will do a post about the lack of respect and funding for after-school teachers) and I will be working on a more one-on-one basis with children which is a move that I believe is right for me. The one thing I have not been excited about is telling my current kids (some of whom I have been with for a year and a half) goodbye. But Friday is my last day, so today I found I had to tell them.

I have said goodbye to children before, but have never experience anything this intense -- I have been marginally involved in programs for a few months and then said goodbye, I worked at a High School and said goodbye to students at the end of the year, I nannied a girl for 10 months and then said my goodbyes to her and her family. This was so different, I feel really connected, truly attached to these children. I have been their part-time mommy for a year and a half, including summers. They mean a lot to me, all my students always do, but I have come to feel a lot of responsibility for their education, their feeling of self worth and their general well-being. A part of me can't help but feel that I am abandoning them, and I know that if part of me feels that way, then part of them is likely to feel that way too.

Since I knew this was going to be an intense and new experience I started by seeking out the advice of a mentor. The woman I chose (who I knew to be a very thoughtful and caring woman, not one that I knew well but one I did have a relationship with and knew would love to help) pointed me in the direction of one of her colleagues who specializes in transitions. We met early today to discuss how I could best help my students, and myself, with this transition. I will start by explaining what we came up with during that meeting and will then describe the actual experience.

Saying Goodbye

First of all, it is important to do personal thinking about why you are moving on and why this is what you need to do, so that when you tell the children you will not need to do soul-searching about whether or not this was the right decision out loud with them. Here is what a thoughtful goodbye sounds like in very simple terms:
  • We have shared an experience,
  • That experience has been very important to me,
  • YOU are very important to me,
  • But that experience in ending,
  • Things end sometimes,
  • But I will always remember you, because you are important to me.
Goodbyes are a good teaching moment to discuss memory with the children and do exercises about our ability to keep things and people in our memory.

Next you need to prepare and consider how hard the goodbye will be, for you and for them. Some of the children might react with anger. It is human nature to want to have control and power, and since you have taken all control from them by leaving they may try to regain power and control by lashing out and treating you badly. Remember that this is only because they care for you deeply and do not know how to deal with the change. When students react with anger remember that it is a testament to how important you are to them and it is vital that you continue to treat them with the same love and respect you always have despite the fact that they are treating you differently. Children are going to go in different directions trying to deal with the change and it is your job to try and help them negotiate their feelings. If you get upset or choked up, which I did a lot, it is a good time to recognize that strong emotion is okay and just shows how much you care.

Some students will not react at all and that is okay too. Try to recognize which children are not reacting because they did not have as bonded of a relationship with you and which are not reacting because their feelings are so big that they do not know how to deal with them. If it is the later make sure to engage them one-on-one, offer them opportunities to create a memory without having to be actively involved, such as taking a picture with you.

Goodbye Activities

There are a lot of options for goodbye activities, these are the few I chose for my class.

Goodbye books: Have the students participate in creating a goodbye book for you to take with you and remember them by. Give them the opportunity to create artwork, letters or anything of their choosing to add to the book. Construct the book with the students so they can have the opportunity to see it before you leave. I will be using a three ring binder and clear plastic sleeves to create the book but you can go in a variety of directions with this.

Pictures: Take a picture with the whole class and offer individual students the opportunity to take personal pictures with you if they would like. If you have the capacity, print the pictures and give the children the chance to decorate them and add them to your goodbye book. Print an 8x10 (at least) of the picture of you and the class and put it up at the end of your last day. Some of the children will need this.

Mailbox: To make sure you do not just disappear from the children's lives make a special mailbox where they can deposit mail for you. Give the children the opportunity to participate in creating and decorating this box. Set up with a co-worker (I choose my site coordinator) to send you this mail whenever the box fills up. It is important to follow-up with this step and send mail back to the students at the school, care of your co-worker. You can also provide your e-mail address (on display somewhere in the class) so the children have another outlet for contacting you -- again, it is important to send a response, even if you only have time for a couple lines.

Letters: Write a letter to each child in the class to hand out when the last day comes. It is easiest to do this on the computer and make the letter fairly generic but with personal additions. It is also helpful if you can include a graphic -- such as the picture of you and the class.

Follow-up: Ask your co-workers to follow-up with your goodbye for at least the first few weeks after you leave. Have them create activities around remembering you and/or keeping in contact with you.

My Experience

The approach towards saying goodbye to my students was so intense that I felt the need to write a script of what I would say during circle time:
I have something important to talk to you about. We're going to discuss an important human power, the power of memory. I want us all to close our eyes and think of our favorite memory from summer. We're not going to share -- just think. Where were you? What did it look like? How did it feel? What did it smell or sound like? Memory is an amazing human power. I have a memory to share with you (describe recent class memory).

The reason we are talking about memories is because I have something important and kind of sad to tell you. Our time together as a class has been very important to me. You are all very special to me and I have really enjoyed spending my days with you. But I have to let you know that this will be my last week with after-school. I am sorry and will be sad to leave you, but I will remember you all and you can keep me in your memory too.
My speech started off okay, some of the kids had a hard time sitting still, some did not want to close their eyes and a few could not resist the urge to share. When I got to the second half, some of my more savvy students started to recognize where I was going and let out small gasps. By the time I got to the point of actually saying goodbye I was getting choked up and actually crying a little. Then I noticed that a student who was extra special to me, a boy, had started turning red and attempting to hide his tears. A couple kids around him were pointing out that he was crying and smiling or half laughing at/with him. This whole scene really struck me, I had not anticipated this particular student crying and I found myself almost unable to continue. I forgot to mention that strong emotion is okay and only shows that we care. Hopefully, if a similar scene arises again, I will remember.

A few students asked me questions, what would I be doing? where was I going to be working? I answered the questions, and one of my kids (whom I had anticipated very little reaction from) commented that "babies do not have homework". I explained my activity idea -- making a goodbye book for me, and tried to motivate the kids to start, but everyone just remained on the carpet. At this point a co-worker rescued me, I had begun to babble a little because my own emotion was overwhelming me. She asked if anyone had any questions, and began describing the mailbox and the opportunity to stay in contact with me.

At this point I took two of my kids who were crying particularly hard to the reading area so we could talk a little one-on-one. They asked me why I was going, and I tried to explain. They asked me if I still liked them and I affirmed that indeed I did. I found it easiest to describe my leaving as a type of graduating. I reminded them that after they finished a grade they graduated and left behind that teacher to move on to a new grade and a new teacher. I explained that was like what I was doing, I was graduating from after-school and moving on to a new position. I continued to affirm that I liked them very much and that I would love to be able to stay with them and do my new position. I had to stay strong on the point that sometimes things end but that I am not disappearing and will continue to be a part of their lives if they wish.

I made a box for my students to deposit their "goodbye book" art into. A couple of my particularly shy students were being private about their art and I was able to give them the option of giving the art to me by putting it into the box or keeping it for themselves by putting it in their locker. As soon as I turned to another student they both went over to the box and deposited their artwork. One of my students drew a big heart and went around the classroom having the other children sign their names. A few students made multiple pieces of art for the book. Some made smiley faces and hearts, some made sad faces, crying faces, or broken hearts. Others simply drew animals and a couple drew monsters eating little stick figures. My "extra special" boy who cried (we can call him J) made me a card saying how much he loved me and that he missed me. Art and free drawing is an extremely therapeutic experience for children, a stress-free and safe way to express their emotions, in this case I believe that proved very true. I made a point to thank each child for their contribution and was careful not to force any of the children to do anything if they did not want to.

After a while my co-workers took the students that were done outside to play. I stayed inside with the students who were still working on "submissions". At this point J illustrated to me the importance of leaving a picture of me behind in the classroom (before I had felt this seemed like a suggestion that may not be altogether necessary). He stayed behind even though he had already finished with his card for me. I asked him what he wanted to do and he told me he needed to do something on the computer. I inquired what he needed the computer for and he let me know that he needed to look for a picture. "What picture?" I asked. "I need to see if there are any pictures of you on-line," he responded. I told him that of course he could do that, and I helped him search -- since I use really strong privacy measures on social networking sites only one little picture came up. I reminded him that we would be taking pictures the next day and assured him that I would give him a picture of me and us.

Well, that took more than 2 hours out of me, but I needed it. I have two more days of saying goodbye to go, I will update as I see fit.

1 comment:

  1. Good job! Your thoughtful and compassionate handleing of a diifficult task will serve the kids well in years to come. Never really thought about what teachers have to go through when they make a job change.