The End of Year Poem: Crafting that “last message”

So, we are all winding down the school year these days.   The end of year projects, festivities, packing up, and cleaning out plans are in full swing in my classroom at the moment…and my thoughts are beginning to turn to that last rite of the school year: the goodbye message.  How to sum up, reflect upon,  and celebrate a year of learning and growing together in the space of one final written message? What form should it take – a letter, or a poem?  We want it to be memorable. We want it to be authentic – specific to our kids and the year we’ve had. We want it to stir hearts and end the year on a special note. So. Much. Pressure.

Here are some ideas to (perhaps) address some of those “wants”:

Although I am not much of a poet, I think that ending the year with a poem is the way to go.  For one thing, our kids really don’t have the attention span on the last day of school to focus on a many paragraphed letter.  And we DO want them to be attentive to this, the last message  we will write to this particular group of kids.  A  poem focuses and distills our thoughts to their essence , it is offers  just the right length to say what we want to say in the time they are willing to give to us on that last day. Some directions to go in:

The reflective poem – one that shares with our students the deep and abiding love we have for teaching children, and helping to shape them even as they continue to leave their mark on us, year after year.  Mary Lee Hahn wrote a stunning poem a year ago on her blog, A Year Of Reading, which beautifully captured this:

To My Students

I am the riverbank

and you are the water.

You flow past me

year after year

fresh

eager

a little wild.

(you can read the rest here).

A poem like this, in which you capture what your students mean to you and what you hope you mean to them, will touch their hearts in a special way.  A poem like this needs a box of tissues passed around when you read it aloud – your kids will always remember it.

Brief and evocative – a poem that sums up a year of learning in a visually arresting and emotionally powerful way.  Some years ago, the poet  Amy Ludwig VanDerwater crafted just such a poem on her marvelous blog, The Poem Farm.  A poem like this, surrounded by a collage of photographs from the school year, would make for a memorable send off of the last day.

The “false apology poem” for a humorous touch – these are poems that draw their inspiration from William Carlos Williams’ famous tongue in cheek “I’m saying I’m sorry, but, really, I am not!” poem:

“This Is Just To Say”:

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably

saving

for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

Kids love working with this idea themselves, and often come up with hilarious false apologies in poem form when given the chance.  Two fabulous books can serve as mentor texts in crafting these poems:

forgive methis is just to say

A favorite project, much enjoyed field trip or beloved read aloud may be just the things you’d like to “apologize” to your students for!

A poem to remind your students “where we’re from” because of the year they’ve been in your classroom – this idea is inspired by George Ella Lyon’s “list” poem which celebrates a long and deeply felt series of events, phrases, and memories:

Where I’m From

I am from clothespins,

from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.

I am from the dirt under the back porch.

(Black, glistening,

it tasted like beets.)

I am from the forsythia bush

the Dutch elm

whose long-gone limbs I remember

as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,

from Imogene and Alafair.

I’m from the know-it-alls

and the pass-it-ons,

from Perk up! and Pipe down!

I’m from He restoreth my soul

with a cottonball lamb

and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,

fried corn and strong coffee.

From the finger my grandfather lost

to the auger,

the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box

spilling old pictures,

a sift of lost faces

to drift beneath my dreams.

I am from those moments–

snapped before I budded —

leaf-fall from the family tree.

This is my own personal choice for an end-of-year reflection; it’s the form that comes easily and rings true.  I begin by thinking hard about the year, the kids I’ve had, the phrases that became well-used, and the “little things” that made this group of kids unique: the bird that flew into a gap in the screen, the pencil sharpener that exploded, the shy student who turned into the class chatterbox by the end of the year, or a particular way another student always spoke (I had a student one year who always said: “I have three questions and three comments” – which absolutely HAD to make it into my poem!).  I write out the list, ask a few discreet questions in class to jog my memory and add to the list, and then shape what I have into a poem.  Here is the beginning of last year’s “Where We’re From”:

We’re from 202 and Smithlings,

from comfy chairs and study lunch.

From quiet, cosy  reading times to

loud and feisty discussions

that mark

who we are, who we are becoming,

and who we want to be.

 

We’re from learning tools and learning rules

(of work hard, be kind, “turn it in”

and “be on time.”)

We’re from projects and writing,

from gallery walks and turn and talks.

From Reading Journals to “unpacking poetry” –

discovering ourselves through words

and what they can mean…

Writing that end of year reflection, that last note from you which your kids will carry out of your classroom one final time, is a bittersweet experience.  I always cry, and I always laugh, too – we pack so much into a year!  On that last day, time really does seem to have flown by.

Please share your “last day of school” message traditions in the comments below – we’d love to know!