I'm always sad when a semester ends. While I enjoy planning for my upcoming classes, I find it difficult to let go of the current ones. I've come to know my students, most of whom--not all of them, but most--are intelligent, funny, and determined to give their best to their classes. I'm excited by their growth, by the changes in their writing and their attitudes, by the camaraderie they have developed during their shared class experience.
They move on; I move on. But I'm heartened when I see those bright-eyed freshman, who entered my class four years earlier, graduate. They've matured, they've learned, they've put in their time, and they are ready to go out into the wide world and make it their own.
If, as a teacher, I can touch one of them, make even one of them approach the world with a more inquiring mind, then maybe I've done something. If I can help them to think for themselves, I've done something. Every once in a while, a former student will come to visit me, long after he or she has left my class, to thank me. Sometimes, it happens after a year; sometimes, after four. But, every once in a while, I get something like this from a current student:
"But from you Ms. Smith, I learned that college teachers have interesting lives, too! Most of us could relate to you because you work more than one job and you also work with the general public like so many students do. I don't know if you or anyone else realizes it, but I feel that I got more out of lessons in your class than what I have to pay back in student loans. And you taught us in a way that forced us to teach ourselves. You did not "tell" us what we had to observe or take away from any assignment. Thank you for doing more than what you set out to do, even if you meant for it to be that way."
And that is why I teach--not for money, or for prizes--but for that.