We missed last year’s graduation, foregoing the celebration in favour of our own graduation for our Master’s degree in Pasadena. I hate to miss out on seeing the kids that I have struggled so hard to educate and prepare for university graduate from high school. It was therefore a great joy to be at this one last Thursday. I know that this is an event that is considered by many as unworthy of celebration. Forgive me if I mount an argument in its favour.

I think graduation from high school is one of the most important events in a young person’s life. For many it marks the end of childhood and adolescence and the beginning of life as a young adult. It marks the end of friendships and family structures that have been a source of comfort and security for 18 years. It marks the end of teachers that have always been willing to listen and modify their expectations in order to help their students succeed. There is virtually never a “final” anything in elementary or high school, until that final exam at the end of Grade 12. I will remark everything that is submitted. I will always allow a second test or a rewrite up until the moment I must submit my marks. Most teachers at this level will do the same. This is rarely true at university.

Those final exam results will not be in for another month or so, but based on what we have seen in them so far, this cohort will do well. With only one or two exceptions, these students are fully ready for the next step in their lives. It has been a real joy to have had them as part of my life for the past two years. I have fought very hard for their success, willing as I ever am, to put my relationship with a student on the line for their greater good. Invariably students understand that this is what a truly caring teacher must do. There are teachers – and there are always some, even in a good staff – who would rather just be friends with their students, never challenging them to dig deeper or try harder or undertake to go the next step. These teachers do their students no favours, even if they end up being temporarily more popular. I will trade my students’ success in university for my own popularity any day of the week and consider it a good deal.

There is no moment greater in a teacher’s life than having a student who has worked and struggled with some aspect of their learning finally gaining mastery. In English that ‘moment’ is likely a process, such as being able to analyze text in a coherent and persuasive manner. Usually that process that has taken months and the road has been marked with disappointment and frustration. When they do finally master their own writing it is not like some formula that they memorize and forget. Learning how to write with insight, skill, and polish is an accomplishment that will last a lifetime. I love it when my students finally feel confident in their own skill. I love it even more when they come back from university and tell me, as they often do, how invaluable that skill is in all their subjects at university.

There are days when my age wears on me and I come home exhausted and spent. I just don’t have the stamina I once had and this old body has begun to betray me in subtle but unmistakable ways. But there are times, such as this past weekend, when all of this effort seems not only worthwhile, but invaluable to someone else’s success. I have taught since I was a young adult myself, and I have nothing left to prove or gain. But if I can help another to succeed in this important transition in their young lives, that is motivation enough.

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