One of my sixth formers left today.
He wasn’t going to say goodbye.
So I asked one of his friends to text him and tell him to get himself back into my lesson, and preferably with cake (which I would give him the money for on his return).
He did return. With cakes, lemonade, plastic cups and serviettes.
It is important to say goodbye.
If he had just slunk off he would never have known how much he will be missed. He would have deprived us of the opportunity to tell him what we appreciate about him and how we wish him all the best.
Last year when some other sixth formers left, their mates made a video of the highlights of their year, with music to fit. Cake figured in that ending too. It was moving and funny and sad.
When I first started teaching I didn’t really think about saying goodbye to classes that were part of my life for two years. I would feel sad to see them go but created no space for that sadness to be named and shared. Then the penny dropped. Even though I was ‘just’ their teacher, and they were ‘just’ my students, we had shared time and experiences together, and that mattered.
So then I got better at saying goodbye. Sometimes there are appreciation circles, sometimes we pass notes round to write our messages on, sometimes we share – you guessed it – cake, and memories. Always it involves acknowledging that something is coming to an end.
In the past I was too busy rushing onto the new beginning, the next year, the next class, the next thing, to end the current one with attention and positive intention. I used to do that because endings are sad. Even when a new door is opening, there is a door closing and that cannot be denied.
We need to say goodbye for practice.
Practice for the big goodbyes, the ones we don’t have time to prepare for, the ones we don’t want to think about.
We sometimes get no warning of when our partner will leave us. Some deaths sneak up on us. Children leave home when we were too busy helping them pack to notice they are actually going. Our job is there one minute and gone the next.
If we don’t practice saying our small goodbyes, then the big ones are all the harder. Saying goodbye to our workplace, saying goodbye to our ex-partner, saying goodbye to loved ones, it is all hard.
So now I teach teachers about how to do endings with their groups. It is particularly crucial in primary schools where one teacher is with the children all day and every day and sometimes for a couple of years.
When my coaching course came to an end, Kim led us through an ending ritual because, she said, how we end affects how we make that new beginning. And she was right. When we appreciate what is ending and sit with the sadness, we are truly ready to move on.