What Remains

“Someday, in the mist of time,

When they ask me if I knew you,

I’d smile and say you were a friend of mine.

And the sadness will be lifted from my eyes.

Oh, when I’m old and wise.”

–“Old and Wise,” The Alan Parsons Project

If you want to feel life at its fullest, attend a high school graduation. Look into graduates’ beaming faces and you’ll see it—their eyes glow like stars. Youth at its pinnacle. Adulthood on its first day. Freedom personified.

For a few hours, the adults called to witness this passage feel what it’s like to be young again. We remember. But we are only visitors now. We passed this way once, but we can’t stay long. We feel time’s march and our place in it. No matter how much we influenced these golden children, we have moved into the past now. Just a few paragraphs in their stories. Chapter One.

And life goes on.

It’s hard to explain sometimes why anyone chooses to teach. Teaching is challenging work. It’s often thankless. Beset on all sides by condescending people who infantilize us and tell us how to do our jobs. Sisyphean paperwork and endless meetings. Why would anyone endure it?

“I like working with young people.”

“ I believe in the power of education.”

–Shadows of the truth, interview platitudes that fail to capture the intensity of our relationships with students. You want to know why we teach? We look at the sun without blindness and feel its warmth. We hold possibility in our hands. We see hope manifest. Year after year, we see life reborn. Teachers are keepers of the flame. The children stand as life’s promise. We will go on.

Teaching is touching immortality.

My students make me feel alive and through them, I live forever.

As this school year ends, I feel the weight of this pact more than most years. My fifth graders are leaving our building for middle school next year. I am leaving, too. Packing my classroom, passing back notebooks, clearing the walls. When Room 211 empties this Friday and the children and I leave it forever, I wonder what remains. Will my students remember what they’ve learned? Will they remember our classroom family? Will they remember the books we read? Most of all, will they remember how much I loved them?

While my professional training prepared me for many things—designing lessons, implementing best practices, working with other teachers—it never prepared me for the fierce, territorial love and concern I feel for my students. These children—brilliant, loving, flawed, hurting, and needy—come into my classroom every year.

My family knows my students’ names and their stories both heartwarming and tragic, I worry about my students long after they leave me, and my life becomes entwined with theirs—for one school year at least—often longer. As much as I hope to change children’s lives, my relationships with students transform me. They are forever mine, and I am forever, their teacher.

On their worst day. On my worst day. Until my last day on Earth, I will love them all. That’s my promise.

Twenty years down the road, what else could they take away from my class that matters more?

I spent the evening attending a graduation party for one of my former 6th graders, Daniella. Flitting around the party, laughing with friends, hugging relatives, dutifully talking with all of her guests, Daniella was bubbly and brilliant. She is glad that high school is over. She is ready for her next life.

Chatting with several former students at the party, I asked each one, “Where are you going? What are you going to do?”

“University of Texas. Biology.”

“Oklahoma Baptist. Art, and I’m going to swim for them.”

“Weatherford. Architecture.”

“Full Sail. Media Communications.”

“Midwestern State. Undecided.”

“Two year mission in Mexico.”

They all had an answer, but I could see it in their eyes. They don’t know. They don’t know where they’re going. They don’t know what they are going to do. Their eyes shine a little too brightly. There’s fear underneath it. An unanswered question, “What’s next?”

I don’t have an answer for them. I wish I did. All I have is the promise I made to them years ago. I love you, my bright stars. I believe in you. I always have. I always will.

Life goes on.

Love remains.

The most important lessons ever learned.

37 responses to “What Remains

  1. Reblogged this on A Teaching Life and commented:
    Teaching=love…from Donalyn Miller:
    “You want to know why we teach? We look at the sun without blindness and feel its warmth. We hold possibility in our hands. We see hope manifest. Year after year, we see life reborn. Teachers are keepers of the flame. The children stand as life’s promise. We will go on.”

  2. Tenille Shade

    Your writing and your truth cease to amaze me. I visited your blog today looking for ideas for launching summer reading plans, and I was greeted with this beautiful gift. Years ago when I was a high school graduate, my family made a video for me and the soundtrack was Collin Raye singing the song, Love Remains. Your post resurfaced those memories, and I hope you’ll take the time to listen to the lyrics. They capture the essence of your message. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90VX7DOWsmU

    I can only imagine how you must feel as this school year draws to a close. I know new adventures await, but I hope you will always share your talents and wisdom with us all! We are better readers, better thinkers, and better teachers because of you. The connection we share with our students is enhanced because of the work you share. Thank you for impacting a wide community of learners. Looking forward to seeing you @ nErdcamp2014 this summer!

  3. Dag nabbit, Donalyn! You made me cry! And Nat doesn’t graduate until next week. I keep thinking I’ll be fine. You’ve reminded me I’m going to cry… a lot. 🙂
    Beautiful words. We call them our kids. We love them fiercely. And just like our own children, we watch them transition and take the next steps. And in the end, all we can do is hope that the lessons we’ve taught them, the life experiences we’ve offered them and the love we have for them will be enough as they begin new chapters in their lives. Your students are so very lucky, my friend.

  4. This! “As much as I hope to change children’s lives, my relationships with students transform me.” So true.


  5. Thank you – you manage to capture what I thought could not be captured with words.

  6. My sentiments exactly as I’m almost at the end of another school year.My students and I have enjoyed reading so many books together and individually.I’m blessed to have been at this juncture in their lives where I could awaken their awareness to delight in the reading of great books.Thanks for your post.I could not have said it better.

  7. This parents and child have forever been touches by you! Do you remember that we met at an Arvada parade? EB was a preschooler and we were walking with the Linvoln Academy float, but we met by chance. I was immediately impressed! If your example was any indication, I knew that Little would be a wonderful place for my soon to be student! He, our whole family, has been so blessed to have you enter our lives. You will continue to reach and inspire students! I’m glad to call you friend and look forward to continuing that friendship.

  8. This is such a moving tribute Donalyn. You say so beautifully what we teachers feel. Wishing you all the best as you finish up the year.

  9. So, beautiful, Donalyn. No words.

  10. Becky Shillington

    What a beautiful post! I taught third grade for several years, and I still love each and every one of my students. My boys are “graduating” from fifth grade this week, and headed to middle school. I needed this today–as a former teacher and a parent of soon-to-be middle schoolers. So thank you!

  11. Beautiful! And so true.

  12. Oh wow, this is one of my favorite pieces of your writing! Such lucky students!!

  13. I attended a high school graduation Saturday where one of my former students, a girl of international heritage, swept the awards. I could not help but feel that tug that when she was in third grade, she was mine. Had I valued her enough? Did she know how much I loved her then? The spark you describe was in her eyes and the graceful way she moved across the stage. We have to let go of them and hope they learn to fly and sometimes they do so, much better than we could ever have imagined.
    Your words ring true for me. Thank you for being a daily inspiration for me!

  14. Well said — so loving and full of truth. When you wrote, “They all had an answer, but I could see it in their eyes. They don’t know,” I knew exactly the look you meant 🙂

  15. Margaretsmn now you got me teary……that is so true.They exceed our expectations.But our lil time with them was our bit of ‘immortality’.They’ll forever be “our students” in our hearts; no matter where or what they move on to in life.

  16. Beautiful piece. Thank you for helping me keep the flame these last few years as your work has informed mine in the classroom. Happy trails!

  17. This is so beautiful. Thank you, teachers, for loving our children.

  18. AJF (@Anitaferreri)

    This absolutely sums up what we do and why. They are forever our students.

  19. Yes, they will remember. Everyone remembers those teachers who really cared about them. Sniffle, sniffle. Beautiful post…

  20. Josie Stewart

    Absolutely touching and beautiful and heartfelt. Thank you for these words that I feel for my students but could never have articulated so perfectly.

  21. “Teaching is touching immortality.”
    Beautiful, Donalyn.

  22. I loved this! I was truly in tears after I read it. Your words ring so true with me as this year I had the honor of receiving a hug from one my students at their graduation. I teach in a small school and part of the ceremony the students walk through the crowd and they can hug their parents and anyone else who has influenced them. I was the very humbled recipient of a hug from a student I had the pleasure of watching grow up. I am a special educator and I have worked with this student since he was a 5th grader. He is an amazing young man who has really helped shape me to the human I am today. I was further humbled when a community member came to me and mentioned that she asked my student about the hug he gave me. She said that he told her that he would not be graduating without me.

  23. That was such a nice engaging piece to read… You have expressed your pure love for your students as well as you have succeeded in refreshing the immense respect in our hearts for teachers and the teaching profession. In this cold world of today, finding teachers who actually care about their students is difficult.

  24. It takes one with a big heart and passion for people to become a teacher. Well done

  25. Beautiful, your words make my heart sing!

  26. It was like looking through a mirror.
    I just graduated with a degree in BS Physics. I had no idea what my direction was when I first entered the university. Now that I graduated, I still have that fear, of not knowing which path to take, or how to get there.

  27. Your post is so moving. I enjoyed it so very much. Thank you.

  28. You made me cry. I often look back and talk about the teachers from my past who made such a difference in my life. Some by teaching me how not to behave toward children, some by teaching me the lesson they were hired to teach me, some by teaching me a lifelong love of learning, and some like you, who simply inspired us to be the very best we can be as people. How do I know that you are this type of teacher?

    You made me cry.

  29. Nice post! I hope someday I could teach also. I love children! 🙂

  30. Truly excellent. Congrats.

  31. Reblogged this on R is for Rogue and commented:
    This resonated right through me. Wonderful post on how much we give as teachers.

  32. A truly inspiring post on the endurance of teaching…so much like a parent, thankless, yet worth it for the future of our youth.
    Thank you for this post!

  33. That’s so beautifully written. Teaching gives me so much joy – your post says it all…

  34. I had this wonderful teacher in high school (more than 25 years ago), whom i liked so much & your article made me miss her more than ever! thank you.

  35. This brought tears to my eyes–thank you for the beautiful post.

    I am hoping to return to school next fall to pursue a bachelor in education to become a high school English teacher. I remember all of my teachers and they all impacted me. Some of them for the good and some of them… well… not so much.
    But teachers matter. Your passion and love for your profession is evident and it’s inspiring. You express such lovely morals and I hope that I can be as involved and caring in my career one day.

    Thank you 🙂

  36. This is beautifully written, great post

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