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Senior Cut Day, Prom and Other High School Rites of Passage

The classroom will be mostly empty, except for me, and maybe the two students who can't afford to take off because of the mandatory seat time requirement

This time of year is challenging for teachers of seniors. They're done, which is kind of a reflection of how their teachers feel too.

Often struggling to help them see the importance of what we do, seniors are a unique breed of students that need special attention. If we do it right, teaching them can be the most rewarding experience. If not done well, it can be a sometimes grueling experience, not for the faint of heart.

Senior year is the last lap of a very long compulsory race where students are asked to play the game in almost painful, useless ways. By the time they get to June, colleges have received deposits and seniors are on autopilot doing as little as possible to make it to the end.

There are a few things seniors look forward to in June though that break from the mundane.

Often they are things romanticized in movies: senior cut day, prom and graduation, possibly a senior prank if your school does that kind of thing. They wait for years to be able to participate in these important rites of passage.

I feel bad for the students who can't cut on senior cut day. They made bad choices throughout the year, they took too many other days, or perhaps there were legitimate personal issues that made attendance impossible. Needless to say, it's never fun to be alone with a teacher when you know all your friends are at the beach or an amusement park having fun.

Hopefully, this alone time will offer me the opportunity to get to know these kids right before they leave. They are often surprised at how I can relate to them. These are the times where I can really show my human side and show them that we aren't as different as they think.

Other than senior cut day, I've been listening to the drama unfold about prom and graduation and in our school exit portfolio conferences. There's a lot of complaining. The real reminiscing doesn't happen until they walk at graduation and inevitably the sadness sets in.

For four years they couldn't wait to leave and then they realize what they will be leaving. Not just the physical building but their childhoods'. There is a profound shift that happens when they understand this. They become nostalgic and so do we, their teachers. Because despite the challenges of the last months, we remember the moments when they got it and watching them grow up.

Seeing the students at prom is the most profound way to see this transformation. All dressed up, poised and ready to have fun. Their make up, flawless, the tuxes tucked. Exiting their limos they seem ready to for the world. I believe it and I realize they will soon be onto the next part of their journeys.

For today, they are talking about planning their fall programs if they don't have to attend classes over the summer. Putting the finishing touches on their prom plans and making sure they have met the necessary requirements for graduation because if they don't, all of this will have been an illusion just out of reach for a little while longer.

High school is truly an event in a young person's life, one they don't understand as such until long after it ends. As teachers, we live in these moments watching the same aged kids experience the same things with different particulars and as they have their one moment, they impact our many.

What a tremendous honor it is to partake in these momentous life events. Which memories from this year will linger for you long after the students leave? Please share.

This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in June of 2015

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