Coming home: Catching up with my former students

A few weeks ago, several of my former students came back to my intermediate school to talk to the 8th graders about transitioning to high school. It was so exciting for me to see how much my students had grown up in that year! Gone were the shy, nervous 6th graders that I still see in my mind when I imagine my first class of kids; they were much more confident and self-assured as they moved around the school. They chatted easily with their former teachers and reminisced about fun times that they had in middle school. Between all the hugs and questions, I remember commenting that “my babies” had grown up so much, and one of the boys laughed and said, “Mrs. Bartels, we aren’t babies anymore!”

Those students have such a special place in my heart since they were the first class that I had the opportunity to work with. I started my career the same time they started 6th grade, so we all grew into our new roles together. In some ways, I feel like I have grown more confident in who I am as a counselor (though, unlike my students, I have sadly not grown any taller. They all felt the need to mention that.) And I think the reason I am so affected by these students returning and talking to me (don’t mind the tears staining my blog post!)  is because this is my first experience where former students have come back and talked to me. Some of them told me funny stories about high school, some talked about the new friends they’ve acquired, and some talked about the competitive sports they are now playing. They asked how my new 6th grade was treating me. But the best part was when some of my students thanked me for what I did for them over their middle school years. I was surprised, especially since some of the students who told me this were students I did not have regular contact with.

But it’s interesting what my former students remember. One recalled how I was present for a lot of different meetings about him. One of my girls remembered how I sat in class with her when she was too afraid to be in class on her own. Stories about sitting in my office crying, laughing, or just talking about life were a common thing. All little things that I never really realized had an impact on my students were some of the things that they mentioned most often. It’s so gratifying to hear that all the advice and time you gave really did make a difference.

I remember I told someone about this, and she said that counseling is often one of the most thankless jobs. Sometimes, I can understand that. There are days when I work with kids for hours, and then have them be disrespectful or revert back to their poor behavior within minutes of walking out of my office. Or when students swear at me. That’s hard, especially if it’s a student that I normally have a pretty good relationship with. But for every bad day I have (and let me tell you, there have been quite a few,) I usually have one or two good things happen. And once in a while, I have a super day that eliminates the bad days from my mind.

I often struggle with my new 6th graders this year. It’s a learning process to get to know who they are, what they are passionate about, what makes them tick. I am still getting to know them, and they are still getting to know me. But for every bad day I have with them, I remember my former students. I remember that things weren’t perfect with them either. And I remember that even though it may not feel like it at the moment, the things I am doing are having an impact on my students. It may be a really small impact. It may be bigger than I ever imagined. Some students may thank me for what I do; some may not, but may remember some of the things we’ve talked about. Either way, I’m somehow making a difference, which to be honest, is all the thanks I will ever need.

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