There's a moment of pride in every teacher's life when they see a student succeed. Aaron Cardwell, a 2019 graduate from the Johns Hopkins School of Education, got to experience that moment in reverse last week, when he was greeted after his graduation ceremony by a swarm of cheering students from his third-grade class.
Cardwell, who graduated Wednesday with his Master of Education degree, teaches second- and third-grade math at Rocketship Legacy Prep, a charter school in Washington, D.C. A video of his class cheering for him in Baltimore's Inner Harbor after the ceremony was aired on local television news and shared widely on social media.
"It was probably the happiest I've seen them all year," Cardwell says. "They almost broke my ankle the way they hugged me."
He had invited the class and their parents to join him at the school's Commencement so they could see what it was like to attend a graduation ceremony. It was an especially poignant moment for Cardwell because he had taught this particular group of elementary students for two consecutive years and they had been his students while he worked toward his master's degree.
"I was happy they got to witness the graduation," he says. "It felt like it was our degree that we accomplished together because it was their assignments that helped me complete my portfolio for my degree."
It was also a kind of exuberant farewell for Cardwell. Next school year, he'll serve at Rocketship Legacy as an assistant principal for upper elementary math—a bittersweet promotion for someone who loves working directly with students so much.
"I believe teaching is my calling," says Cardwell. "Ever since I first joined Teach for America in 2015, teaching has been like a lifestyle for me. I get to work with my children every day, which makes them a part of my journey just as much as I'm a part of theirs."