Saying goodbye to a colleague…

but not to a friendship…

It wasn’t until my dad died that I realized he was the glue that held my family together. Until then, every visit home meant a spontaneous or planned family gathering centered on food—usually food my dad prepared. We would gather at holidays, certainly, but every time we gathered seemed a holiday, no matter the date on the calendar. But when my dad died, the family climate changed. Gatherings became fewer and farther between. We siblings seemed to grow farther apart with each unmarked celebration. It became almost an assignment—who is spending Mother’s Day with Mom? Without my father, my family dynamic completely changed, making his death ever a more significant loss. We have become unglued.

My friend Brittany, a fellow teacher at the school where I have taught for ten years, has been that glue at school.

Brittany on a float in the local parade. She floats through life with a smile on her face and joy in her heart -- and manages to make others have the same.
Brittany on a float in the local parade. She floats through life with a smile on her face and joy in her heart — and manages to make others have the same.

At my small K4-12 school we have a cluster of four classrooms, plus a fifth nearby, that are merely called “The Quad.” This cluster, a big square of classrooms with connecting doors, has typically housed the rhetoric classes and the homebases for 9th through 12th grade students. The school year 2011-12, the “fifth” held the seniors, while “The Quad” hosted 9th, 10th, and the two 11th grade homebases. I personally monitored the 9th grade homebase. As the students “graduate” to the next level, their homebase teachers “go” with them. It provides a unique relationship between the class of students and their homebase teacher, culminating in that teacher saying goodbye to their students in a special speech in one of the graduation ceremonies.

Brittany, Kelsey, Shane, and I have been “The Quad” teachers until this past year, when Brittany’s teaching schedule was amended and she was moved to a different classroom—too far away. Of the four, I am the “serious” one, desirous of  a specific order and neatness to my room. The others took great pains to be a pain to each other, regularly pulling practical jokes mostly on each other and only occasionally venturing to mess with my personal space. (Although when I posted a blog on my “pet peeves,” Kelsey immediately “committed” every one of them.) But we all had a great relationship and acted as one happy family, often gathering to eat lunch together or otherwise connecting.

As it turns out, like my dad, Brittany was the glue that held us together. When she was moved to another classroom this year, and her former room dedicated to a logic level homebase, the critical link between the quad rooms was gone, and we all—not just Brittany in her “too far away” room—found ourselves most often isolated. It wasn’t just logistics. It wasn’t that our relationships changed. It was simply that Brittany was that glue that made the logistics and relationships meld into something special.

Brittany left a good-bye gift on my desk this week; she’s not just leaving the quad, she’s leaving the school. I’m fairly certain I should be the one providing a going away gift for her, but I am not surprised that she has thought of me instead. I only can offer her my words.

I say goodbye to an amazing teacher and a dear friend.

Brittany came into our school—and my life—from corporate America just three years ago. She was seeking a safe haven and a quality education for her daughter and found a way to become part of that environment herself. She became a teacher in the secondary English department but a powerful influence on the entire campus.

She taught 9th and 10th grade English each year but at times taught rhetoric and debate, student government, technology for middle school students, and yearbook. The students she first taught 9th grade English became her homebase, and she invested her life into theirs; her passion is to see each one of those students—our upcoming senior class—become all that God wants them to be. She truly loves them.

Brittany came to assemblies carrying a cow bell—loving to be that “obnoxious teacher,” as she called herself. She could confront students’ errant actions with the best of us, but she could smile and joke and love and simply coax the best out of them all. When it came to student government, she invited students to her house, exhorted the leaders to become servants, stood up for those leaders while also demanding much from them—and she made a difference. In rhetoric and debate, she challenged students to argue for issues they abhorred as well as believed, taught scholarly research and creation of speeches while also forcing students to look at themselves as individuals by making them write their own eulogies and even prepared them for the interviews that are sure to come. In English, she made literature come to life—often discussing with me, her department head, what she saw and taught with such enthusiasm that I wished she were teaching me. Though she rolled her eyes at the thought of teaching logic students, criticizing her own ability in working with such a young age, she touched their hearts and won yet more fans.

During Homecoming Spirit Week, Brittany would dress up in all sorts of craziness. When it was time for the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Brittany got student government to decorate the halls, prepared a chant (“Do your best on the Iowa test!”), had all the teachers dress like Iowa farmers, and fed students tiny cups of popcorn to get them excited about standardized testing. When the yearbook staff revealed this year’s masterpiece, they did so with a video capturing the book’s theme and numerous photos—and otherwise added spunk and spirit to a yearly routine.

But even more than all that, I found in Brittany a friend. Not that having a friend is unusual for me. I am likable. I really have numerous friends. When I am at events, I am surrounded by people I know and love. But I regularly don’t attend those little Pampered Chef or jewelry parties, and shun even showers, weddings, and other celebrations. I nearly never go out with friends to a movie or even a coffee date. For so many years I had small children who needed me at home that I got out of the habit. In latter years I was churning out schoolwork—either for myself as a student or for my school as a teacher—that any spare moment I had was for that or for cleaning the mess that was my house.

But Brittany got beyond that. We met on occasion for coffee. I went to her house; she went to mine. We went to Texas together for a teacher’s conference (see my blog posts titled “Chronicles of Marmia” for the details). She stopped by my classroom on her way out of the building for a chat. She bounced off ideas she had for teaching. She shared inspiration she had gotten from articles she had read. I was still the slovenly friend with an overfull personal agenda, but Brittany made me into a better friend.

We will see if her power in that area continues.

I tend to be an “out of sight, out of mind” type of person, which has born me well as I have said painful goodbyes through the years. But in some ways it makes saying goodbye—even to someone who lives in my hometown—seem so final. I’ve been at my beloved school for ten years now and have seen teachers come and go. But none have barged into my heart with the force of Brittany. I hope she refuses to leave.

As we finished our last work day yesterday, I had to go into her classroom to thank her for the gift. The tears welled as I hugged her, and I started to leave the room with a “I can’t do this…” Of course, Brittany cracked a joke and I was able to get my act together.

The day before I had told Brittany that I thought she was the glue that held “The Quad” together, nearly bringing her to tears. Last night—after our goodbyes at school—I started composing this post with that same thought. I wanted to communicate how valuable she is to me and our school and give her the honorable send-off she deserves.

Brittany had posted her goodbye on her Facebook page:

“Three years ago I entered an amazing school. As I left the building for the last time today, I truly reflected on the Cornerstone Academy students and families who have blessed me and taught me more than I taught them. While my real estate location may change, my heart and love is with you all.”

Danny, one of her students, then responded with this:

“You were the glue that kept us together, the backbone that let us stand tall, and the heart that gave us the love to serve. On behalf of all the seniors, and everyone else, you will truly be missed. Moving forward won’t be impossible, but it sure will be hard.”

He said it so well I was tempted to discontinue composing my own thoughts here. I know Danny’s first two sentences are beautiful and correct. His last one is brave—but also true.

I know, ultimately, God is the glue that holds my world together and that, with Him, nothing is impossible. Rather than become unglued at saying goodbye to a dear colleague, I will, instead, choose to be thankful for the time we had together. And make time to continue being friends.

4 thoughts on “Saying goodbye to a colleague…

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  2. Mrs. Dagen,
    I was just reading some of your posts that I had missed, and I was shocked to see my name in here! I feel so honored to be part of such a beautiful composition. 🙂 Thank you!

    Like

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