Today was the last day of classes at Lovett's middle school. Today was also my last real day of teaching for at least a year. Come August, I won't be decorating my classroom, painstakingly planning the first day of school, or memorizing the names of 70 new students. Instead, I'll be in a new town, with new people and new challenges.
So today, when my 8th graders took their seats for a final time, I handed out the assignment below and asked them to read over it carefully.
The Final Assignment
Today is your last day of my class. Next week, you and I will both set off on new adventures. You won’t be middle schoolers anymore, and I won’t be a middle school teacher. We will all be newbies, navigating new halls, learning new rules, and writing new chapters.
So, as we say goodbye for now (but not forever), I am giving you a final assignment. There will be no due date, and it is entirely optional. It won’t be graded. I hope you do your best on it anyway. Don’t forget to ask for help if you need it.
Look for beauty in every day and in everyone. It may not always be easy to find, but it is always there. Once you’ve found it, sketch it, photograph it, write about it, cherish it. Whatever you do, don’t let it go unnoticed. The more you recognize the beauty around you, the more beautiful you will become.
Listen, especially when you’re one-on-one with someone. It’s so easy to get caught up in the game of who talks most. Instead, think about what the other person has said. Ask questions. Be interested. You can change someone simply by letting her know that you care.
Give. Of yourself, your time, your heart. And don’t keep tabs. Do for those around you because that, in and of itself, is a reward. Never make others feel guilty or expect them to “pay you back.”
Love -- even when people don’t seem to deserve it. Live with an open heart. If your heart’s not open, it can’t be filled.
Be honest. Be genuine. Be real. This requires figuring out who you are (and who you want to be). Once you know, be fully you each moment. Then you’ll never have to wonder whether or not people love the real you, and you’ll never have to worry who’s watching.
Practice kindness. More often than possible. Follow Atticus’ advice: step away from yourself and into others’ shoes. Empathy will come back to you, just usually not in the way you expect.
Take time to reflect. Go on a walk, write in your journal, say a prayer. And when you notice something that you need to make right, do it as soon as possible. Never be afraid to say, “I was wrong,” or “I am sorry,” and be aware that adding the word “but” after either of those statements takes away all of their power and meaning.
Remember that it’s normal to be sad sometimes. It’s also normal to feel lonely. Life is full of beauty, but sometimes that beauty comes with pain. There will be awful days. Cry on those; feel what you are feeling. And then go find something beautiful. Because you always, always can.
Surround yourself with people who make you happy and make you better. Remove yourself--in a nice way--from people who don’t. You must be kind to everyone, but you get to pick and choose who you give your heart and time to.
Cultivate your creativity. Paint messy paintings. Write bad poetry. We are, by nature, creative beings. Never lose sight of that part of yourself, no matter how busy you are.
Finally, listen to your heart, and follow your dreams. There are some things you have to do: be kind to others, apologize for your mistakes, follow-through on your commitments, listen, learn, grow. There are also a lot of things that you don’t have to do: fit in, be “cool,” live up to other people’s expectations, be the best at (fill in the blank). Never let those things that you don’t have to do get in the way of your dreams. Write your own story every day, or someone else will. In the words of Thoreau, “Live the life you’ve imagined.” And live it exuberantly.
Note: This assignment will take you a lifetime to complete. That’s okay. If you have questions about the directions, or if you need some feedback, don’t hesitate to reach out. Though I won’t be here, I will always be here, ready to help you, advise you, and encourage you in any way I can.
With all the love in my heart,