Have you ever noticed how the dying words of actors in the movies are so profound? They lie there, clinging to the last few seconds of life, their loved ones surrounding them with listening ears, aching to hear words that might change their world forever. Then, with all the bravado of a fearless soldier, they eek out their parting words of wisdom that leave the entire audience, actors and viewers from home alike, fulfilled.
Braveheart comes to mind. William Wallace, being tortured by his English adversaries, collects himself to bellow out a single word which he had longed for his Scottish ancestors to experience: “Freedom!” Or what about my favorite book of all time to teach, the Outsiders, when Johnny Cade lies dying of 3rd degree burns in his hospital bed. He calls his best friend, Ponyboy Curtis, over to his bedside and breathes, “Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.”
Or you can look to the ultimate dying words of all time that took place over 2000 years ago at a place called Golgotha. You know who I’m talking about. Our Lord and Savior, fighting for his last breath after struggling for nine hours on the cross, breathed His final words in John 19: 30 by proclaiming, “It is finished!” His ministry complete. His mission accomplished. His legacy sealed. For all of time.
If only I could garner the wisdom to say something as profound as that when my time comes to pass! The truth is that we will never know when our time will come. As Christian teachers, however, we do have the right to carefully choose our parting words to our students on the last day of school. What will your final words be? Will they be expressing your need for the summer break? Or will they be so profound that they leave the class breathless, able to hear a pin drop before the final bell rings?
When my students leave my classroom, I want them to know I cared for them enough to put some thought into my parting words. I have tried many ideas in my 11 years of teaching to get through to my kids before they leave for the summer. Here are a few of those ideas and a couple I have never tried before. Read them and see what you think might work the best for your students.
1. Write each student a personalized note. This has been a hard one for me, but for nine out of the eleven years I have taught, I did this. There was a two-year dry spell midway through my teaching career that came when I wondered if my students even appreciated this sentiment. It was that summer that a parent of one of my former students saw me at a restaurant and referred to me as the teacher that wrote her daughter a note five years earlier. As a matter of fact, I have attended graduation parties of former students where my last day notes were taped in old scrapbooks. For those kids (and their parents) I write those notes, and I will continue to do so until I stop teaching. My advice? Start early! There were years when I started as early as the week after Spring Break–especially when I had larger class sizes. Will it touch every kid? Certainly not, but for the ones it does touch, the feeling is priceless.
2. Have each student write down a positive adjective or phrase to describe the other students in the class. Collect the entire list and type up a list of those positive words to give to that student on a laminated bookmark. If there is a lack of variety, I always include a few of my own words to round off the list. Try to come up with eight to ten solid positive words or phrases to describe each kiddo. One of my most fond memories is a girl I once taught smiling so big, repeating herself over and over, “Who thinks I’m a sweetheart?” It is one of the most precious gifts the kids can receive, especially when they realize their classmates view them this way.
3. Tell a story that teaches them a life lesson worth remembering. I received an e-mail that told a story about two high schoolers that met in 9th grade. One was a popular kid, the other a book worm. The popular kid saw the nerd get bullied and helped him pick up a pile of books while on their way home from school. They became friends and let their relationship grow over the years. Sure enough, the book worm won valedictorian and had to give an acceptance speech. It was there that he told the story of how his buddy had rescued him on the day the book worm was going to go home and take his own life. Moral of the story? You never know how far one small act of kindness will go.
4. Maybe you were not blessed with the ability to speak. Guess what? Moses had the same problem, and God gave him his brother Aaron to talk for him. You can certainly do the same! Find a motivational quote from an outside source to read to the students and ask them to discuss the meaning to it. One of my favorites was a last day speech my 11th grade history teacher gave me. I always attribute the quote to him even though he probably got it from someone else, but I have used his quote as my quote of the week the last week of school nearly every year I have taught. My teacher wished us all a “successful failure” in life–otherwise a failure that you learn from and grow from, making you a better person. If a quote won’t do, search for a valedictorian speech online that fits the mood. Youtube can be your friend here!
5. Have your kids names ready to draw out of a hat, and as you draw them out, without giving away the identity of the kid, talk about them. Tell of all the incredible things they did throughout the year. As you go on, the class will start guessing who you’re talking about, and it becomes a game. Keep the comments positive, tell funny stories when necessary, but only if you think the kid would appreciate it. I have actually embarrassed some kids over the years reminding them of silly moments they’d rather forget. If you’re unsure whether a comment would be hurtful or not, lean toward the safe side. Leave it out. Seeing their smiles as I commemorate them is priceless. My parting words to each kid certainly stick.
6. Write a song about your class! I have only done this a couple of times when I was inspired to, but my classes appreciated it when I did. I’ll never forget my “American Pie” chorus from years ago … “Bye, bye, 7th graders goodbye/ It’s really hard to leave you, but I’ll try not to cry/ (insert boy’s name) was a really nice guy/ Singing this will be the day 4th quarter dies/ This will be the day 4th quarter dies.” Have fun with it! I did learn from my first to my second song that I should keep the comments positive. The first song was somewhat edgy in the fact that I expressed a lot of jokes and sarcasm; the second one was much more appreciated by all since all I did was sing praises.
7. Have the students share memorable moments throughout the school year aloud with the class. Be sure to tell them that they need to be positive comments, not comments that tear others down. Talk about memorable lessons, funny moments, or moments when learning was at its best. You will receive valuable feedback on what the kids perceive as memorable; plus it lets the class put their own unique stamp on the school year.
8. Have your students write letters to next year’s students explaining to them how to succeed in your classroom. It is a wonderful, quiet activity to get kids writing, and it helps them reflect on how they grew over the year. The letters are always waiting for my newbies on desks when they arrive in the fall. Their first activity after roll call is to quietly read through as many letters as possible, soaking in the wisdom of former students. I will say this … be sure to read all the letters. Some of the immature 7th grade boys will write … well … yeah … immature stuff! It is always a good idea to warn them ahead of time that you’ll be discarding any letters that are inappropriate.
9. Play the compliment game. Start by modeling a sincere compliment to a student. Say something like, “Johnny always held the door for others, and that showed he had a caring heart. I will always remember the day you helped Sarah when she was having a rough day. These actions show that you truly care about others, and I can only hope that others follow your lead.” Can you imagine being that kid? How cool would that feel? Here is where the fun begins though, because now that kid gets to compliment a different person. Only one compliment is allowed per person, and the entire class must be complimented. If there is a problem kid left at the end that nobody wants to talk about, jump in and have something ready to share! Every kid has something wonderful inside them, even if the compliment is something as small as having good handwriting.
What about you? Do you have any ideas to share? I don’t mind at all if you add your own comment below to encourage others. Let’s make our last weeks memorable!