I thought it would be like closing the page to the book – but it seems we have just begun another chapter.
Wouldn’t it be nice if that happened more often – just when you think you’ve reached the end, it turns out it is a new beginning?
I suppose, in a way, it did close a chapter; I am no longer the teacher; at least, I am no longer bound by the constraints of the classroom.
Oh – to have the opportunity to have my former students gather in one room once more – to be able to teach them the way I teach now – to be able to learn together once more!!!! Sadly, that part of my life is gone. I will no longer be able to have their undivided attention and daily interaction.
They never really did need me. They could have taught themselves. It was an extraordinary group. They were close knit. They had been together since grade 1 – most of them. How often does that happen anymore? They were keen to learn. They were willing to learn. They sang, they danced, they studied. Moreover, they were curious and willing to entertain so many different adventures in education. We adopted a child through World Vision, we wrote letters for Amnesty International, we made paper from paper thrown in trash (before recycling became a thing), we orchestrated parent – student volleyball tournaments, we deconstructed computers and electronics, we filmed first aid scenarios, we adventured into United Nations assemblies. And there was oh, so much more. “It seems we learned beyond the curriculum, Mrs. LePage,” one of them said to me.
“We did so many interesting things, Mrs. LePage.”
“You listened to us. You cared for us and took time to learn about who we were, Mrs. LePage.”
“Some of the projects we did were so outside of the box. Remember when we volunteered to work in a political office, Mrs. LePage?”
I used to get into so much trouble. I just didn’t know the rules – how to sign forms and seek permission. I’d jump and then swim after. Mr. Deffett, our former principal, deflected most of the heat for me. He is the reason, really, why I was able to do such crazy things with the students. He supported me. He encouraged me. He inspired me. Who knew? He used to brag about what “we” (the class and I) were doing. He would brag about how one teacher could produce such great results – showing other teachers the “Staircase to the Stars” musical production we presented. He was in the shadows – but always the reason that we could “do” such great things together.
Every person needs a cheer-leader. I was for this group – their biggest cheerleader. Mind you, there were so many totally supportive parents that I have to admit, in some cases, I took second place. Mr. Deffett, was mine.
The chapter closed on James Thomas Deffett in 2007. He passed away far too early in his years. At least, far too early for me to figure out what a great impact he had had on my life and how much I appreciated his support as a young up-start teacher frantically and chaotically swimming in an ocean of accomplished teachers. He would clean up after my paddling stirred so many waters into mirky mires of haze. Although that chapter closed, his book has not finished. His legacy will carry on. And although they don’t know it – my former grade 8 class is his legacy. They remember him, they learned from him, their lives were changed because of him and that he allowed “us” to be curious, to question, and to learn. He deflected the shackles for me – and that brought my students and I the freedom to soar.
The students thanked me, yesterday. It was a very humbling experience. I was terrified they may have reflected and recognized that I was so green and inexperienced that I really stumbled along. I did not know how to teach – the way I do today. I am embarrassed that I gave home-work, that I rewarded some without others for having home-work finished… there are so many things I would do differently today. I could not teach them “how” to learn back then – only “what” to learn. I taught them what I thought would be useful in their lives. I loved them. I learned with them and they made me so that I did not fear “not knowing”. It was okay to make mistakes. I wish I had given them better tools to teach their own children “how” to learn. There are so many things I wish I could have offered to them. Yet, they thanked me. They came to visit me. They told me that I had made a difference in their lives. It was like a living eulogy – not in a sad way, rather, very wonderful. Who gets the opportunity to hear those kinds of things while they are still alive?
What I learned about yesterday, among so many other things, is that it is vital to say thank-you while you can. We must, must, must make opportunities that can allow for thanks and celebration and then make the effort to show up.
There were many students who were unable to make it yesterday, however, they will try to make the next reunion. Yes, the next reunion. I thought the book had closed – and am delighted that they want to reunite annually. The book is not closed, it is merely beginning a new chapter. Thank God.
I never did have the opportunity to thank Mr. Deffett while he was alive. I just didn’t know how much he had given to me. So – I’ll thank him now. “Jim, because of you, I was able to give these students what they needed. You supported us all in our growth. You made a difference in our lives. Thank-you.”