Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Final Farewells

I write this post with a very heavy heart.  Today I just completed my third and final year teaching Social Studies in Singapore at ICS.  I have been anticipating this day for a while now trying to prepare myself for how I was going to feel on the last day.  However, it just kept feeling surreal to me.  I even tried to force it on a few occasions by reminding students that this was the "last day of actual class", but nothing came out.  I didn't feel any emotions; no joy nor sorrow.  I started to expect that maybe I wouldn't feel anything ever.  And that I would just seamlessly just pick up and leave Singapore very similar to how I had entered it with high expectations for emotions that never come.  However, today proved me more wrong than a Helen Keller joke.

The emotions really started three days ago, over the weekend, when I decided that I would make a slideshow video for each of my classes by compiling photos that I had taken or stolen from others of things we did throughout the year.  But I made it particularly special for my 8th graders, many of whom I have walked all the way through Middle School since they were tiny 6th graders.  For their video I compiled pictures of all three years starting as 6th graders, then onto 7th grade, and final this year as 8th graders.  I felt so pathetic as I was making the video and tearing up as I played it back to myself in my bedroom alone.  It was then that I began to question how stoic I would be on the last day.

I started off the day strong.  I prayed with my homeroom class, we did some administrative stuff like turning in books and cleaning out lockers, and then we all went to the gym where we handed out awards.  Piece of cake.  Next we went to recess where I played soccer (and had a pretty remarkable goal from midfield I must say) and then went upstairs for the party.  The party is mostly a time for people to walk around, eat food, chat with each other and then eventually make their goodbyes.  I spent most of the party time signing yearbooks.  When I finally finished signing everyone's yearbook that wanted me to, I started walking around to the other rooms.  Still no crying.  However, during this time I reached into my pocket to check the time and realized there was only 15 minutes left until school was out.  That realization hit me like a mighty wave and I just started tearing up and then full on crying.  Ironically, a student who is also leaving ICS this year, whom I had teased would cry before I would, walked out into the hallway right as I had started to cry and was the first to notice.  I quickly tried to escape to recover, but students were everywhere and I had nowhere to go.  A few deep breathes would eventually stop the tears, but it was futile because just a minute or two later they would come back.  It also didn't help when I began to read all the notes, yearbook messages, instagram or Facebook posts that students wrote for me either.

Why was I crying?  I don't think I could really explain it to where anybody that has not been through the same thing would understand, but I'll still try.  Imagine for three years totally dedicating yourself to just one thing and letting that thing consume your life and your thoughts even when you are not doing that thing.  Then imagine that that thing was loving a specific group of people.  And for those three years, that group of people might change a little here and there but many of the relationships built continue to develop over those three years.  Now, imagine just one day, very abruptly, having to stop seeing that group of people, and for many of them likely never seeing again.  If you can imagine that then you might know how I feel now as I write this.  My job these past three years (despite what my contract might say) was not to teach Social Studies.  My job was to love on some kids, and I did that as best as I possibly could.  No, I wasn't perfect.  I got upset, lost my patience, yelled maybe too often, but I never stopped loving my students.  And now being expected to just walk away from it is difficult.  I don't have any kids of my own (*yet: in case I read this in the future and things have changed), so I am not going to be so bold as to compare it to what a parent goes through when their child leaves home for college because I don't think this is on that level, but I would argue that it isn't too far off.  Especially when considering the fact that many of these students lack a fatherly presence in their lives, which I have tried intentionally to emulate for some of my students by going to all of their sports games or musical performances, or playing sports with them at recess, or just simply asking how they are doing even when I know they are just going to say "I'm fine" but to just let them know that I care.

I realize that I am rambling now and that this is much longer of a post than I anticipated, but this is my raw emotion, as I am writing about this about 10 hours after it happened and still randomly breaking into tears again.  People have tried to comfort me by saying that I will get the opportunity to do the same thing and love on a whole new group of kids in Korea, and while I don't doubt that that is true for one second, I also know that it won't be the same.  I am not saying I will love the students in Korea less than the ones that I have had in Singapore, or vice versa.  What I mean is that I will not be the same person in Korea as I am here and it will just be different, and I don't know that I am ready to let go of this version of Brad McMath.

I will take the memories made with these students with me for the rest of my life, and for quite a number of my students, just because I am changing my location and that there is now a much greater distance, geographically, between us doesn't mean that our relationship is ending.  I hope and plan to continue to stay in touch with and even visit many of the students in the future.  God has been so good to have brought me to this school where I have had the opportunity to teach such amazing students.

My 8th Grade Slide Show

7th Grade Slide Show

6th Grade Slide Show

My 8th Grade Boys
All but one of these I have taught for two years, 
and all but three of them I have taught for three consecutive years

Carissa :(

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