Once upon a time and not so long ago the children in Grade 8 in schools across Ontario celebrated the completion of 10 years of formal schooling. The celebration took the form of a “graduation” ceremony followed by a beautiful party that saw boys and girls elegantly dressed, happy and full of anticipation for what awaits them outside the cocoon of elementary school. Some claim that this “rite of passage” is not a true graduation because these students have not achieved anything of academic significance. Excuse Me? Ten years of learning and you dismiss this as not significant? I now dismiss you from further discussion on this topic.
For those who agree that ten years of elementary school experience is the foundation for whatever happens at the secondary and post secondary levels, let’s continue our discussion about Grade 8 “graduation”.
A school in Mississauga, this week, chose to cancel a grade 8 graduation dance because the teachers did not want to be responsible for supervising and cleaning up after the party. This circumstance is sad because it didn’t have to come to this. Why would a time-honoured tradition be sidestepped for such a petty reason? This event is very, very important for students of Grade 8. I don’t disagree with teachers being reluctant to do janitorial work at the end of a very long day. I do part company with teachers who would deny their students this precious, memory-filled milestone, simply because they are “working” above and beyond their expected responsibilities. Of course they are. This is what it’s all about. You were the mentors, the role models, the confidants and the heroes to these kids all year long. Now you are telling them that you don’t want to share in their joy and their triumph at the most important moment in their elementary school years. I would bet that most of you have memories and photos of you and your homeroom teacher together at the party or receiving your graduation certificate; you dressed in your beautiful gown or your rented suit and the teacher looking at you with pride. Awesome right?
This item hit the local papers because of the outrage expressed by parents who expect their children’s teachers to just keep on giving. My next target in this is you parents. Where are you when this event is being organized? How many of you volunteered to step up and help set up the gym, clean up after the party or just do some chaperoning? Shame on you for expecting way too much of your teachers. Get real. Didn’t you once graduate from elementary school and do you not remember what a fabulous night it was? Do you forget that it was your teachers who made it so? Preparing and running a graduation night is a daunting task and could use some help. So stop whining and pitch in.
And now you Mr. or Ms. Principal. Have your leadership skills suddenly gone into hiding? Are you so intimidated by the teacher’s union that you will do anything to avoid being “grieved”? Come out from under your desk and support the people who really matter in this issue, the kids who are your graduating class. Surely you could have brought the teachers and the school council together to not only resolve this impasse, but to ensure that these kids receive a triumphal celebration of their success and their goodness, and one which will provide memories of a magical time in their lives. The responsibility for getting this done is yours. The shame for not getting it done is also yours.
On a personal note, I recall the final graduation of my career before retiring. The ceremony of handing out certificates, presenting awards, the valedictory speech, the slide show of the escapades of the grade 8 classes during the year. Then came the party, kids trying to turn the lights down while we turned them back up, music played too loudly (for our ears), the boys doing their imitations of peacocks and the girls pretending not to notice. The dance ended and the students spent several minutes hugging and saying their good-byes while we, the teachers, the vice principal and I, waited at the front door. As the kids came to say good-bye to us they were in tears and, of course, reduced all of us to tears. We bade them farewell, wished them good luck and we turned and went back into the gym to clean up. Even that was a precious memory. Call me old fashioned I guess. I’m just saying.