By Katie Keefe
I can distinctly remember saying goodbye to my first class of students six years ago. I felt an overwhelming sense of finality as I walked them to their busses. I knew I would never see this group of students again; I was moving away and had no way of contacting them. What would happen to them? Would they remember what I taught them? Would they remember ME? These were my kids!
As their busses pulled away, a veteran teacher turned around and saw my eyes fill with tears. She laughed and teased, “I remember my first year. Don’t worry – the goodbyes get easier the longer you teach.” I was skeptical. And rightly so.
Fast forward to a month ago – the day before winter break. The day that begins our anticipated time off filled with family, friends, and self care. The day that teachers typically countdown to, perhaps even more than ever this year, due to the demands placed on us during the pandemic. A day that was supposed to be filled with excitement, was filled with dread.
This was the day I had to say goodbye to my student, Aidan. He had been my student for the past three years. I knew it was time for him to move on – he had outgrown my classroom. In fact, he had outgrown our whole program. He was ready to change schools and we all knew it. His mom and I had discussed his transition for months, but I still felt my heart skip a beat when she finally gave me his end date. I quickly overnighted a graduation cap, sash, and diploma. I needed to make this day special for him. Aidan was the first student to steal my heart at this school, and I knew he would be taking a piece of it with him when he left.
The day came and I felt a strange mixture of pride and loss. The same feeling I had saying goodbye to my first class all those years ago. The same feeling that creeps up on me every time I say goodbye to one of my kids. This is the part of the job that isn’t talked about enough.
Special education teachers typically teach their students for multiple years. They become our kids. We know their quirks, their favorite color and what makes them laugh. We see the good, the bad, and the ugly. We worry, we stress, we lose sleep. I spend more time with my students than I do my own family! How do we go from spending thirty-five plus hours a week with these kids to nothing at all?
My sense of loss has eased slightly over the past month. Aidan’s empty desk is being given to a new student tomorrow (cue the mixture of excitement and nerves). But I’m lucky this time – his incredible mother and I keep in touch on a weekly basis. And even better? Aidan and I are email buddies. In fact, he sent me an email just a few weeks ago:
Hi Katie. My first week at (redacted) was so great but it was virtual this time. I really miss seeing your face, I love you and I hope to see you again soon.
I took three things away from this email:
He is doing well. He really is. He is HAPPY.
He misses me too!!
He remembered my lesson about formatting emails.
I’ll end my post with this–
To the fearless, dedicated, and selfless extra lucky parents and guardians: I know you have a million things on your plate, but if you are ever able to take a few minutes to send a quick email, text or picture to your child’s old teachers, therapists, behaviorists, etc. – it would mean the WORLD to us. We have loved and cared for your child and are missing them more than you know. Let us hear about their progress and accomplishments. Heck – let us hear about their bad days too! Nothing we haven’t seen before!
And lastly – thank you. Thank you for giving us the ultimate gift: the honor of entrusting us with your child, for however long that may be. We may be a small chapter in their lives, but we will hold them in ours forever.
Photos and names have been published with permission. You can learn more about Katie on Instagram @katiekeefe1!