“Are you crying, Mr. West?"
This was how my week started.
So why was I crying in front of my class this week? Well, first, I wasn’t crying, YOU WERE CRYING!
I’m sorry, that was clearly a defense mechanism. I’m sorry for yelling at you. It’s true. I was the one who was crying.
To be fair, my crying was less like a beauty pageant winner and more like a football coach watching the final scene in Rudy. Y’know…filled with extremely macho, just-below-the-surface emotion and poise. Or maybe it was somewhere in the middle of those two things. Either way, I definitely welled up with emotion. Also, my students cried with me, which, if you haven’t been the only adult crying along with a bunch of teenagers then you either didn’t go see “The Fault In Our Stars” in the theaters, or you did but you have a heart of pure stone. Their love was pure and innocent, but she was sick! It just wasn’t fair!! Their destiny to be star-crossed lovers wasn’t their fault!! The fault was in their stars!!
But my emotional display in class wasn’t 100% my fault. See, we were analyzing this poem in my AP Literature class called “The Story,” and—as the kids would say—it “gave me all the feels.” See, the themes of the poem were loss, love, and the impossibly complex relationship between a parent and their child. My students recognized the powerful main idea that parents subconsciously fear the day that their children stop seeing them as god-like and start seeing them as people they want in life rather than need.
And that’s when we all started crying. For me, the poem made me reflect on how my two year-old is growing up faster than Tom Hanks in “Big”…and how all she wants right now is for me to read her a million stories before bedtime, but one day she won’t want me to read her any stories before bedtime!! Excuse me, I have to go cry into a pillow for a minute. I’ll be right back.
Of course, for my seniors, their emotions came from an authentic recognition that going to college was not just scary for them, but that it was going to be an immensely difficult time for their parents as well. And for me (again), it was seeing my young adult students coming to this realization and verbalizing their own personal connections with the poem…and then compounding my emotions by getting all nostalgic over the fact that I’m only going to have them in my class for a few more weeks before they graduate. To paraphrase what Trent said in Swingers, “They’re all growns up! They’re all growns up and they don’t’ want me or their parents to read them any stories before bedtime!” NO, I’M NOT CRYING AGAIN, IT’S JUST ALLERGIES, OKAY?!?
I’m sorry for yelling at you like that. Again, it’s just a defense mechanism and I’m working on it.
Here’s the thing, though: none of us would have had this shared emotional experience had we read this poem at the beginning of the year. That’s because, while springtime in education generally represents the final chapters of a long school year, that’s not all springtime represents. Springtime is when educators make our final push to reach our struggling students—to see if they can find some level of success before the end of the year. It’s also a time when we start to look forward to next year and the new and/or improved lesson plans we are already excited to write and deliver. It’s also a time that brings us face to face with the inevitability of change. Colleagues might change, rooms might change, administrators might change…and students will definitely change. And as I’ve explained before, all change—even good change—represents loss.
I get it…for many teachers the end of the year feels more like the final scene of “Footloose.” No tears, just dancing...impossibly well. And maybe you won’t cry before the end of the school year like a teenager watching “The Fault In Our Stars.” Maybe your emotions are more composed and macho, like an old cowboy watching a beautiful sunset. But if these days you’re occasionally finding yourself connected to the long end of a tissue, just know that you’re not alone. After all, it’s spring. Showers are expected.