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Time is short; remember to make a difference

May. 23, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

I wrote until I thought my hand would fall off. Then, I wrote more. Upon completion, more than 60, eighth-grade journals, divided into three groups, were stacked at the back of my classroom. This was my last written response as a teacher to my students' writing before they move on to high school. How do I sum up a school year in a paragraph or two? I faced the same dilemma countless other English and language arts teachers have dealt with through the years.

My students' last journal entry was a reflective piece of this past school year. Repeatedly, I read students' writing that stated something like this, "I was surprised at how quickly the year went by." I felt the same way -- both as a teacher and even more so, as a parent.

"Time stand still . . .Freeze this moment a little bit longer. Make each sensation a little bit stronger. Experience slips away," states part of the lyrics of a song performed by the rock band Rush.

Throughout Lawrence County, school doors will shut upon the last day of school this week. In fact, by the time this column appears in the paper, my school's last day will be complete. My students of this past year, as well as my daughter, will be heading on to a new educational adventure, high school. Yet, no matter what grade level a student has completed, the end of the school year marks a milestone in a child's life -- more "sands in the hourglass," slipping through; and, that dang glass is in my way, not allowing me to capture those grains.

Sure, there are photos, scrapbooks, graded papers, drawings and other mementos that capture a moment in time. However, the tricky thing about kids is that they keep on growing, changing, and maturing. Pop! Pop! Pop! Just like popcorn, they grow and change frequently. Then, as quickly as I can pop a bag of popcorn in the microwave, I am looking at my own child and wondering, where did the time go? To be certain, time seems to speed up with age. Yet, if my own eighth-grade students recognize how quickly time is passing, then my perception of time must be at warp speed! Geez, what will time feel like 20 years from now? I am certain my own parents are smiling at this question.

Back to my journals, I tried to write a message of hope and promise for each student. "Remain as focused on your goals as you have been this year." "I am so glad you have learned not to procrastinate this year. Remember that lesson as you work your way through high school." "I am so proud of the way you have grown, both personally and academically. Keep striving to improve as you did this past year."

However, I have to ask myself, did I make a difference? Not only with my last written response in their journal, but throughout the school year -- did I use time well and make an impact? I looked over at my daughter, working away on an assignment I had asked her to complete. Am I using my time well with her? Has my parenting and teaching left a positive impression? "Time stand still." Let me rewind; or, as we do in Language Arts class, let me edit and correct my mistakes. Pop! Pop! Pop! Time won't freeze. No time to edit.

I think, perhaps, Grandparents get this concept best. They have raised their children. They have most likely asked the very same questions I am asking. Therefore, they understand the speed with which children seemingly race through their childhood. Grandparents get that time with kids is fleeting. Plus, they know their errors. Therefore, time with grandkids is the "editing" portion of their parenting. Grandparents never seem to be in a hurry, I have noticed. They are not quick to anger, nor are they ones to not pay attention to what their grandchild is saying. Grandparents seem to understand that each moment with their grandchild is special.

I have to wonder if this is why so many retired teachers return to school in the capacity of a substitute teacher or to help/volunteer in other ways. Are these dedicated professionals "editing?" I know my own mother, a retired teacher, still works with students in a part-time capacity. "It's the kids, Steph. I love the interaction with the kids." Retired teachers know time does not stand still. Kids will only be kids for a relatively short period of life, especially when you consider most people now live well into their 80s.

I closed the last journal and sighed. I looked at my daughter, the physical symbol of those students. "Experience slips away." Pop! Pop! Pop! "Hey, Mom, you know next year in high school, I . . ." Time is not cooperating with me.

May all parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents and any other adult that works with children watch over our kids this summer with an abundance of love. Let us endeavor to make a difference while our children are still children.

P.S. To all my eighth-grade students, thank you for the lessons you taught me. I have enjoyed this school year immensely because of each of you! I will miss you.

To my daughter, Madelyn, you inspire me daily to be a better person. You, too, teach me lessons. I love you.

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and an eighth-grade reading and writing teacher at South Point Middle School. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net.