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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!

Tara Smith View All

I teach Writing Workshop, Language Arts and Social Studies to sixth graders at a middle school in suburban New Jersey. This blog is my attempt to capture all the "stuff" that goes into my teaching life - the planning, the dreaming, the reading, the preparing, the hoping and (above all) the kids.
Please note that the content of this blog is my own. It does not reflect the opinions of my employer.

27 thoughts on “The End of Year Poem: Crafting that “last message” Leave a comment

  1. Thank you, Tara. This post is perfect! We write messages in our culmination program. Last year I did an apology poem and was working on something for this year. This post was what I needed to write one for this year.

    We’re from room 5
    with books and books and books,
    from Wonder to Ivan to Long Walk to Water to LOCOMOTION.
    We’ve learned from Auggie, Jack, and Julian,
    from Ivan, Stella, Bob and Ruby
    from Lonnie and Lily from Salva and Nya.
    From these characters, we’re learning what it is to be human, what it is to be kind.

    We’re from KidBlog
    with words and words and words,
    from slices and essays and memoirs and INFORMATIONAL writing,
    from comments and comments and comments,
    From word clouds and google docs and canva, we compose our thoughts.
    From words, we find ourselves.

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  2. Tara, I think if I had one wish for my own years in elementary school, it would be that I could have been a student in your class. I love this post so much, and your kindness and compassion and genuine affection for your students is so apparent.

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  3. I’d like to think my little push on your blog got you to write this wonderful goodbye poem. Stop selling yourself short! You are a poet!

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  4. Wow, Tara, I have tears in my eyes reading this and even thinking about saying goodbye to my little ones, and I still have them for 6 months! You truly are the poet Tara, you always seem to find and share wonderful poems and write them too. What a beautiful keepsake you are giving your class, what a wonderful year you have given them. Good onya! 🙂

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  5. Each year I compose a poem for each of my students to highlight something we have learned or experienced together or some special aspect of personality I have noticed and want to affirm. This year I will add a poem of reflection to celebrate our year of learning inspired by this overly post. Thank you for stretching my thinking.

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  6. I love the poetry idea as the year end ritual – I had always done letters and then had them write me back. (Little do they know how much I treasure those letters that are bound in books and now live on my bookshelf at home!) I would love to try poetry now! Thank you for sharing! 🙂

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  7. My students and I write an end of the year reflection that we call our “Commencement Addresses.” We use Google Slides and the slide is where the students choose 4-5+ pictures from the year that I keep in a shared folder for the students to access. In the notes section of the slide, the students craft a paragraph(s) of the year’s highlights, new learning, specials memories, favorite quotes, and a chance to thank parents, staff, etc. as they leave elementary and head to the intermediate school. It’s quite touching when they read these to parents as their slide is presented on the big screen. I always do a google slide, too, as I begin the readings of what this year meant to me as their teacher. I make a copy of their slides showing the notes and put each in a plastic page protector and include mine on the other side. Makes a nice memory to save in a scrap book. I love the closure of remembering good times. D 🙂

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    • I love that name, too, Linda. A student came up with it several years ago, and posted a big sign on our classroom door announcing it to the rest of the school – and it has stuck ever since. I love the Tolkein-y sound of it. As though we were a room of industrious, brave, and magical hobbits.

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  8. This is a beautiful post that I want to return to over the next few weeks as I get ready to wish my students well and send them off to summer and 4th grade. Thank you for sharing your beautiful poem, the mentor texts, and the poem about the river…these I will keep as my own mentors for crafting a goodbye. Love this post.

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