Teacher Talk: How to Say Goodbye
You know all the routines, the end-of-school traditions that help to bookend the year your classroom community has spent together, the gardens planted or songs sung, the parents welcomed in and the children to whom you say goodbye. But what about when the transition is yours, when you are ending not just a school year, but your time at a school.
Whether it's retirement or a new adventure or a professional realignment, leaving a school is a complicated and delicate process. There may be any number of emotions involved: excitement, mourning, anger, loss. You might be leaving at the end of a long and happy tenure or you may be leaving because you are not a healthy fit for the school, or vice versa. The transition might be within your control or without.
Whatever the cause of your transition, make space for it, in your schedule and in your spirit. When you're leaving a school, you're often leaving a place that has seen you at your best and at your worst, with people who know your strengths and the ones who know your challenges. Especially in a practice as individualized as Montessori, when we are asked to be open and compassionate with the children, teachers are vulnerable to each other in a way that makes leaving a school a fragile balance.
Take the long view. There may be conflicts you want to resolve right now, or difficult emotions that challenge your calm. Even when emotions are high- indeed, especially when emotions are high- err on the side of grace and courtesy. School relationships, like other deeply personal, connected relationships, are messy. If you're leaving to retire or to begin a new adventure, be open about the roller coaster of emotions that might accompany the transition. Other teachers might cheer you on - don't be afraid to remind them that even the changes you choose can be scary.
Give yourself space for sense-making: In leaving a school, you are also leaving the possible self you imagined you would be when you began teaching there. You are leaving the identity that you protected while you were there. You are leaving the relationships that helped you on the hardest days. Don't underestimate how deeply you may experience those emotions, and don't presume that they'll be any more predictable than they were when you were a student yourself. You can't decide that you'll be excited about your next step at 11AM during lunch and then that you'll be scared about it at 3:40 after carline. Make friends with the harder feelings that are predictable to feel, even if they might not be predictable in their appearance. While the context of your professional demands may not allow you to put your own stressors ahead of your work, it's ok to find the time, at the end of the day or with a trusted colleague, to talk about how you're managing.
Model grace. The children learn from you whether or not you're offered a formal lesson. Depending on the age of the learner with whom you work, you may need to be more focused on providing a reliably loving space or more focused on providing an authentically complicated model of adulthood. Don't presume there's one way to manage a transition "in Montessori." Instead, talk with your coteachers and your administrators about how you'll articulate the transition and what questions might arise from parents or other stakeholders. Decide together how to respond to questions from the children, and what timeline is appropriate for sharing the news.
Speak what needs to be said, truthfully and in kindness. Except in the most extreme of circumstances, you should prioritize what the children can understand about the transition and how to convey it in a way that models peaceful-resolution and healthy changes. Change is inevitable, even when it affects you. You have an opportunity to model gracious leave-taking, a lesson to teach the children that may be far more lasting than the value of a melodramatic goodbye. There are people with whom you can and should foreground your own sense-making about leaving a school, including the complicated parts that may make leaving a little trickier. But remember, your job in the classroom may ask you to be authentic, but it should also require you to be professional. Montessori practice asks humility of its teachers. Find the space and people with whom it's appropriate to talk about the hows and whys of this change, but don't let that interfere with your stewardship of the classroom or your focus on the children.
Finally, find the gratitude: Whether you are leaving after a fifty year tenure or you're radically changing your lifeplans or you want to practice Montessori differently than you can at that school, or something else entirely, figure out what you have learned from this experience, how it has strengthened your practice and what you are grateful for. Except in the most extreme circumstances and even if you are leaving on less resolved terms, there is something about this experience that has changed you for the better. Honor it and be grateful for it... it will help you move through the predictable challenges of the time leading up to and the time immediately following a transition, but more importantly, it will help you to persist past the transition having named on your own terms this portion of your life.
Unlike the space you provide for the children, you are not in a position to prioritize your own emotional life while the children are there. Authentic? Yes. But the center of the classroom? No. That doesn't mean you shouldn't practice self-care or ask for the emotional support you need to prepare for and recover from a major life change... it just can't get in the way of the children's work. Whatever the driving force is for saying goodbye, focus on helping the children to make sense of it in the most child-centered and developmentally appropriate way you can, and you may find your own meaning in it at the same time.