One of the best things about working in an independent school is advisory, that time each week when students and teachers gather in small groups to eat and talk. In my advisory over the past decade, my advisees and I have vigorously debated politics; discussed aspects of social media, Hollywood news and fashion; watched Saturday Night Live skits; shared favorite video games and pet peeves; debriefed assembly speakers; complained, worried, listened, laughed and cried.

More often than not, I am the listener who gives guidance, and I like it that way. But this winter, I found myself in the unexpected position of needing support from the very people I usually advise. When my husband accepted a new job in another city, I had to tell my school community that I, too, would be leaving at the end of the school year. I started with my advisory.

My advisees had a lot of questions about what would happen to them in my absence and what my life would look like. Where would my girls go to school? Would I take time off? What did I really want to do with my new life? How would I manage the cold? Did I plan to come back for their graduations?

They moved quickly from surprise and concern to excitement. Which makes sense, upon reflection. Students know from the time they enter high school that their time there is limited, that they are on their way to somewhere else. It’s only a question of where, not when. And the feelings about moving on, while sometimes bittersweet, are skewed toward the positive. Moving on is the natural and wanted thing.

But for me, the script was flipped. For a few weeks, I needed more advising — and cheering — than they did. As I got used to this script, though, I found I liked it more and more. Never before had I seen my students in exactly this light, or seen them step into this role.

I didn’t anticipate it, but my being out of joint was actually helpful to two of my advisees who were also trying to figure some important things out. One hadn’t yet been accepted to a college of her choice, and the other hadn’t yet received a scholarship she was competing for. My being uncertain about next steps allowed them to be certain for me, and, in time, for themselves as well.

Things have settled out nicely for all of us. The four juniors in my advisory will stay together with another teacher who they love and who will see them through to graduation. The seniors and I will leave our beloved school together. The student competing for the scholarship won it. The other was accepted to several colleges she will be happy to attend. I’ve found a new position in a new school. My girls have, too.

Nowhere is it written that every story will have a happy ending. But in the case of our advisory, it already has.



Jessica is a doctoral candidate, education consultant, writer and editor. She is the founder of bookclique, a collaborative of English teachers and students working to promote book culture, and a co-founder of Well-Schooled, the site for educator storytelling, dedicated to sharing first-person educator stories. All Rights Reserved - What I Learned Today in School.