Saying Goodbye to Your Students
Saying goodbye to students at the end of the year can be bittersweet. On the one hand, you might feel the lightness of relief as the stresses and strains of daily work lift (until next term, and the next bunch).
Maybe they’ve bonded really well as a group, or perhaps they’ve worked so hard that they exceeded your expectations. Perhaps they were just downright lovely. But soon, there will be a mass exodus as they step out into the worlds as adults: undergraduates, apprentices, employees.
Everyone knows the good old ‘DVD and cake’ way to mark the end of an era in your final lesson, but if you’re looking for a different way to say “thank you and goodbye”, then take a gander at some of the ideas below.
Say it with your subject
If you want to leave those young minds with a lasting message about your subject, perhaps an academic trip would be a good way to end the year. Biology students would love a trip to the Natural History Museum, English students the Globe Theatre or the underground vaults of the Bodleian Library, History students Edinburgh Castle, or Geography Students Durdle Door. Trips do require a fair amount of organisation, but at least these older teens can cope with train travel, which avoids the hassle of coach hire.
If a trip is out of the question, perhaps your department (or your own bank account) has enough funds to get some small gifts, if it’s only a little class. What academic textbook has helped you most in your career, or been most inspirational? A copy with a handwritten note inside will be treasured forever, and may set them off on the next step of their studies.
Have a word
Whether it’s, “You clever lot!”, “You wonderfully ridiculous motley crew” or “You’ve certainly given me some greys”, there’s always a way to say whatever you want to say to your group.
Individual, hand-written notes or postcards are really special and meaningful. If you’re not much of a talker, try jotting down a single piece of advice for moving on from school/college, or a cheap and easy recipe to try while at uni. Gourmet beans on toast, anyone?
You could have fun writing some ironic class reports for your students and handing them out on the final day, to read to each other and giggle over.
Or if you’re musically inclined, pen them a farewell song and give them a surprise in your last lesson when you pull out your acoustic guitar and go full David Brent.
If your institution does assemblies, then this is a great place to say a formal farewell. You could give a heartfelt speech, a slideshow of photos from trips over the years, or give out certificates personalised to each student (‘Most likely to turn up to lectures in a dressing gown’, ‘most likely to label every item in the kitchen cupboard’ etc)
All wrapped up
If the idea of presents appeals, but the budget won’t allow it, why not suggest a lucky dip for the last day of term? Students can find the weirdest or coolest thing for under £5, wrap it up and put in a lucky dip bag for someone else to pull out at random. You could boost the bag with a few wrapped extras to fill gaps for anyone unable to bring their own contributions. It’s bound to be silly, fun and memorable as they compare what they’ve got and try to figure out who bought it.
Perhaps there’s an inexpensive token which will have sentimental value for your class. The best gift I’ve ever received as a teacher was a class-collaboration on an inside joke (a butternut squash, signed by the entire class, who had shared many juvenile giggles with me over “his vegetable love should grow” in ‘To His Coy Mistress’). I was genuinely touched - and crying with laughter) -over this thoughtful gesture, and you could similarly reference any fun moments with your choice of end-of-year student gifts.
Fight for the right to party
Turn your final lesson of the summer term into a proper party by blowing up some balloons, buying dozens of doughnuts and blasting out some terrible music (or whatever they want to listen to, if your network hasn’t filtered YouTube or Spotify). Don’t underestimate the childish appeal - even for brooding adolescents - of oversized inflatable sharks and a bubble-machine.
Or if there’s somewhere nearby, have the fun of a trip without the pressure to learn. Let loose somewhere like laser tag, a trampoline park, or go for bowling and burgers. Or meet halfway on the sophistication spectrum and book a table for 12 at Pizza Express.
If you can’t get away with binning the work in your last lesson, and you have to focus on exam preparation, make it feel like a party anyway by providing popcorn, strawberries and prescribing fancy dress. You could even set a theme for costumes (book characters, figures from history, conceptualised scientific theories). Or just head outdoors for a lesson in the sunshine, which is always such a treat.
It’s all work, work, work
Give them a free pass on homework for a week, or steer in the other direction and create them a fantabulous revision pack to take some of the stress out of the summer.
Sharing the love
Class goodbyes don’t have to be a one-way street. Why not help students compile their own special memories as a tribute to each other, as well as their learning? You might volunteer to help with the admin or printing of a yearbook, or you could go around the campus with a camera, filming snippets of learners recalling favourite memories, and play it as a feature on the last day. A more low-tech version could be that you give them a bit of time to write down and illustrate their fondest or silliest highlights for a wall-display. You could set the display up ready for the end of term, and then in their final lesson, students can read everyone else’s contributions and share the memories together.
For many students, even if they don’t realise it, these might be their last months in their hometown. A huge proportion of them will go away for university, and either stay on in their study town after graduation, or move further afield again for work. This could be a special opportunity to think about giving back before they go.
What has their town given them? Maybe some brilliant outdoor space that helped them stay healthy; a youth club that gave them a steady base during difficult times; a swimming pool that gave them a passion and a focus; a community who championed and cared for them. Whatever they’re grateful for, encourage them to think about giving something back. What can they do for the college, or the town, or the next generation of young people before they leave? It might be a big group litter-pick, or painting a mural by the bike-sheds. It could be doing some weeding for elderly neighbours or running a Saturday morning music workshop for younger kids. It’ll be a unifying experience, and help them retain a sense of self during this time of transition.
There are so many ways you can say your goodbyes to those beloved students. No matter what you go for - elaborate or simple, fun or serious - do make sure to say goodbye. You might have been an important figure in one of your students’ lives without even knowing it, so don’t slip away quietly on results day. Not without a hug, a thank you or well done. Just have those tissues at the ready!