I’m a sensitive guy. I try to hide it behind a deflecting mask of sarcasm and cynicism, but it’s there. I’m always just one returning-soldier-surprising-his-kids-at-school YouTube video away from sobbing like a baby. When I was in high school, I had to tape the Wonder Years finale and watch it late at night after everyone had gone to bed, so nobody could see me weeping. One time, recently, I made the mistake of listening to a StoryCorps podcast while I was grocery shopping. Other shoppers had to see an adult male crying man tears into his beard in the produce section. It wasn’t pretty. So I had no idea what to expect on December 19 when the final bell rang and I walked out of my classroom at Walnut Grove Middle School in Midlothian, Texas, for the last time.
This past fall, my wife was offered a job in Washington, DC, that was too great of an opportunity for her to pass up. So in October, I had to tell my principal that I would be resigning at the end of the semester to move east with my family. Over the last couple of months, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the nine years I’ve spent at this school and ask myself lots of questions. What will I miss the most about this place? What are my top 10 WGMS moments? Which students will I always remember? Which Boyz II Men song should I cry-sing to as I’m driving out of the parking lot on my last day?
In August of 2006, I started my first teaching job at Walnut Grove Middle School. What I thought would be a two or three year stint to get some experience turned into almost a decade. As the years passed, I found myself getting more and more invested and attached. I completely bought into the vision my principal has for the school. I found a place where I could grow as an educator, learning from some amazing mentors. Even more than that, working with my principals and my fellow teachers at Walnut Grove has made me a better person, and I will be forever grateful.
There’s a bulletin board in the back of my room that’s covered with random things students have given me over the years. It started with three or four pictures in one small corner, but it grew and eventually took over the whole board. There are pictures they drew of me with my beard. There are pictures of my beard by itself. There are nice letters and notes from students with inside jokes from that year (a middle-schoolers way of saying, “Thanks”). There’s a picture that says, “You are a communist ninja unicorn.” I have no idea what that one means, but I like it. Another one, from 2007, has a picture of a walrus and says, “Mr. Garvin smells like bananas.” I don’t. But I do love the drawing.
Everything that’s on that board is a reminder of connections I’ve had with students during my time there. More than any lesson, test prep tutoring session, or technology project I did here, I’m most proud of that board and what it represents. One of my students suggested I rip the board off the wall, walk out with it, and try to check it as baggage on the flight out. Instead, I took down the contents, piece by piece, and put them in a box to take with me. As I did that, I was reminded of exactly why I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing. One strange, random picture at a time.
In The Office series finale, Andy Bernard, a character who was working his last day at Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company, was talking about how he would remember his time there. He had some regrets about not enjoying each day enough. He said, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days, before you’ve actually left them.” I think I did know. And I tried my hardest to enjoy every day there. And while I’m excited about the next chapter, it hurt to finish this one. But it should. I’d be worried if it didn’t.
Nathan Garvin teaches 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts and Reading. For some of his great ELA lesson plan ideas, check out his EdmodoCon 2014 presentation “Leveling Up Student Writing With Badges” and follow Nathan on Twitter.