Except we really didn't party like Gatsby. There was no booze, infidelity, bootlegging, or murder. There may have been a slightly broken heart or two and maybe a little carelessness, but it was a party for teenagers, after all. We had tables full of flowers and candles and a perfectly beautiful evening to celebrate the end of the year and, for nearly all of them, the end of me as their English teacher.
After our meal I gave each senior a book that I picked out specially for him or her. And then my students surprised me with a beautiful plant, a gift card to my favorite restaurant, and the real treasure: a journal with a page or two from each of them. Ah, my heart. To read words like this—I cry every time. I'm crying even as I'm transcribing them from journal to blog:
"I don't hate books as much any more, and I owe it all to you!"
"Words cannot begin to tell you how much you have impacted my life."
"Thank you for not only teaching me all the wonders of literature, but also for teaching me how to be a strong, courageous, confident woman."
"Thank you for teaching me, listening to me, and always leaving your door open for me."
"Thank you for helping me find my voice."
"I really didn't like literature. It has only been presented to me in a shove-it-down-your-throat way by a terrible teacher. Over the years you've shown me what it's like to have a teacher that truly cares."
"You are an incredible teacher, not only because you've given us so much knowledge, but also because you're truly passionate about what and who you teach."
"Your classes have taught me to write better, to write more, and to write freely."
"You have helped me become the woman I am today."
"You taught us to look at life through a new perspective, to find optimism, and clutch the opportunity."
And, the one that always gets me, "O captain, my captain."
Is there any greater joy for a teacher—and for a mom/teacher because one of these students is mine—that to hear these words?
At last night fell, and we gathered on the lawn to watch The Great Gatsby, which was the last novel we studied in class. I'd not yet seen the Leonardo diCaprio version that came out a couple of years ago. I enjoyed it, although it's possible that I like Robert Redford as Gatsby better. I haven't seen that version in 20 years or more, so I can't say for sure; it's just an impression. Regardless, it was a perfect way to spend a warm evening in May.
I have been so honored and blessed to be their teacher. They are good, good people.