I’d heard stories about Institute – the sleep deprivation, lesson-planning craziness, the pressure and the environment – but no one ever told me how incredible it was. No one ever told me how meaningful or powerful or fulfilling it was. In a way, I’m glad I didn’t hear all this beforehand, because it’s almost more fun to figure it out for myself.
In moments like these I always marvel at my extraordinary luck, honor, and fortune in getting to be a part of something so fulfilling. It may be months or even years before I’ll be able to look back and more clearly see what the past six weeks have done to me – done for me – done with me. And in the meantime, I sit here, eyes full of emotion and hope and tears and all of those things that come from living in a way that so deeply aligns the life you always hoped you’d lead.
My kids wrote me letters late last week. I haven’t read many of them yet, because I feel too much, but here are some excerpts from two of them:
So I tell you this before it is like you been in my hole life it is like you been there for me i love you your Reading is amazing. and when I made you take me out side and you talk to me then that is when I started to be happy all over again yes. so you is like goodest one you help me in every thing in math and Reading that is so amazing! I wish that you can come to all my schools that I go to so thank you for everything you give to me and everything you do thank you so much.
You are my favorite teacher because you do so much for me. You call on me when no other teacher will you give me scholar dollars and talk to me when I have problems thank you.
The writing is obviously heartbreaking (these students are going into 7th grade) but even taking a step back from that…oh my god. These two students were among my toughest and most behaviorally challenged students, the ones who I had to constantly pull into the hallway for private talks. They gave me hell and I gave them no-nonsense love in return, the same kind of love all my teachers gave me. I always assumed these students would hate me…I mean, if someone was constantly redirecting my behavior all day every day I’d kind of hate them too. and yet – these students wrote that. Life is so strange and beautiful sometimes.
It would be impossible to even attempt to capture, through mere words, all that has said and felt and been and believed these final few days of Institute. My quotient of kairos time has continued to increase each day until now, when I am full of feelings that could never fit into the boxes of text and font and frame.
Yesterday was our last day at school. How, exactly, do you deconstruct a school? How do you deconstruct an Institute? How do you deconstruct a summer?
The answer is, carefully, slowly at first, then faster and faster til it all just comes tumbling down. I’ve found this at many points in my life – there is a certain “tipping point” beyond which things just feed off themselves; graduation weekend was exactly the same. The fact that I know it’s coming doesn’t make things any easier.
Yesterday at school was absolutely crazy. We did a community building event with parents that was wonderful, but also meant a deviation from typical procedures – a phenomenon my kids aren’t quite ready to handle yet. The goodbyes were strained and odd. No one was really clear on the timing, so we lingered and students lingered, and many students didn’t realize this would actually be the last time they’d be seeing us.
We spent the rest of the day essentially erasing all traces that TFA had ever been in our school, taking down all the signs and posters and words and feelings and all the things that had piled up over the weeks. All the things we had so carefully built were all of the sudden gone. I spent my afternoon lugging Ikea bags of literally hundreds of hanging folders out of the school to the vans. At one point, I stopped outside in the sunshine – with the cool breeze and the perfect sky and the gently waving American flag – and just thanked God for the chance to do this, to be a part of this, to grow like this.
I cried the entire bus ride home (of course) and spent the rest of the evening in an absurd TFA adventure that included driving almost an hour and a half round trip to fix a grading mistake I’d made – it was one of those things where you can either laugh or cry at the ridiculousness of it all, and so you just have to throw your head back and laugh.
We had the TFA Closing Ceremonies last night but because of my driving-all-over-Houston adventures I only caught the last few minutes. To be honest, I was actually okay with that. I was feeling sad and weird and upset and confused and didn’t really want to deal with the pep-rally environment. I went out with some friends later that night but found myself mainly just wanting to be by myself,to feel my feelings and try to process all that had happened. It was one of those moments when time is entirely too fast and feelings come all at once, without even a chance to breathe.
Today was full. Full of tears and feelings and laughter and fear and excitement. Too much, too fast, and too hard to even explain in words. I spent essentially the entire day with my CMA group. We talked about lots of things that I don’t want to get into here…partially because I don’t even understand them myself, partially because I don’t know if I will ever fully understand them, and partially because those things deserve the respect of not being put out on the Internet for all to see. I have cried more, in front of more people, this summer than at any point in my life. and I am grateful for a CMA group where that sort of vulnerability is not only okay, but is fully encouraged. I don’t know if I will find this sort of environment again in my life; I hope I do, but I know these things are rare and hard to find. Just for having had this experience I am extraordinarily grateful.
We had our last campus meeting this afternoon. More tears, lots of laughter – thanks to the skits we all performed about various TFA staff members who’ve impacted our lives in all sorts of serious and funny ways – and lots of closing speeches. They even did a little ceremony for us in which we got to personally hug/shake hands with all the staff members at our school. As cheesy as it sounds, it was actually a really meaningful moment and a nice way to bring things full-circle before we all go our separate ways. As I sat through the meeting I couldn’t help but marvel at how far we’ve all come since we began this wild and crazy adventure together. How close we’ve gotten. How much we’ve learned about each other – ourselves – the world around us.
Time has gotten weird again and so here I sit in a coffee shop on campus. I’m headed to dinner and then Happy Hour with TFA friends later tonight, before attempting to move into my apartment tomorrow. It makes me too sad to think about how today I’m surrounded by such incredible & amazing people, and tomorrow evening I’ll be in my little apartment, and the difference is just too much to handle right now.
How lucky I am to have something so hard to say goodbye to.
Given unlimited time, it would probably take me two or three months to process all that Institute has meant to me. I don’t have that time, though, and so I’ll just do my best with what I have. There are some things I know for certain. I know that this experience has challenged me not only physically but mentally; having done this, I now feel more ready to greet even greater challenges this year will likely bring. Because in the end, it’s not about the challenges. It’s about how you handle them. Strength, grit and reflection were some of the words people used to describe me today. It really touched me.
I hope for time. Seconds, minutes, hours. Time for myself and time for others, time to speak and time to listen.
I hope for courage. Courage to be myself and courage to let myself change.
I hope for hope, that I may always be able to re-kindle my own fire when the spark inevitably dies a little bit.
I’m scared for what’s to come, only because it is unknown and because I will miss the current fabric of my life so deeply. But out of this sort of fear rises the most extraordinary opportunity, and it’s with that attitude I finally close this chapter and begin to greet a new one.
One final thing. There have been so many adults here at Institute who have helped me in these fundamentally terrifying few weeks. Every single one of them has been extraordinarily kind, warm, nonjudgmental, and above all – a role model in every way. I would list them all here but to just write words could not do them justice. It is a deeply altruistic thing, to believe in someone whether or not they believe in themselves, and for all who have believed in me throughout this journey, I am forever indebted.
I do not know what lies ahead for me. I know the logistical things – some of them – and yet I know I still have a lifetime of learning and growing left to do. This is a bittersweet ending of one chapter and a scary, yet exciting, beginning to a new one.