Ah, the last day of school. Mixed emotions all around.
School ended for us last week. This year was particularly hard for me. After 2 years together, my class was moving on. Since our school loops, I’d had them for all of third and fourth grade. It’s hard to say goodbye after that long.
Added to that, the first class I ever had as a full time teacher was graduating to middle school. The tiny little ones I had at age 8 had grown up to be tall, smelly, pimply, moody preteens. (Just kidding. Sort of.) Saying goodbye to them, even though I knew they were more than ready for junior high, was also hard. In one way or another, I’d been dreading this day for years.
The kids all react differently to the end of a loop. Some kids become extremely clingy, and want hugs and high fives and to stand as close to you as physically possible without actually merging into a single person. Others suddenly doubt everything, and ask questions like “Where are the pencils?” to which you must patiently answer “The same place they’ve been for two years.”
Some start pushing away before they can be pushed. Loudly declaring how they won’t miss the classroom, then wistfully sighing and whispering goodbyes to the fish. There are more tears, more fights, more frustration, than ever before.
At the end of the loop, they are more like siblings- prone to snap at each other, argue over pointless things, and push each other’s buttons. But like siblings, they see each other as family, and are sad and afraid to face a new class without each other. (The fact that they will see 1/3 of their friends in next year’s class, and the ones not in their class will be only yards away, and they’ll still see all the time, is not something they can comprehend right now.)
Mixed feelings sums it up. A few days before the last day, when I mentioned the impending final day, two boys spoke at once. One said “Ugh, get me out of here! Is it summer yet?” The other said sadly “I don’t want to leave.”
Then, they both spoke at once again, saying the opposite! The first said “But I’ll miss everybody so much! It’ll be so sad!” While the second said “Obviously, though, I can’t wait for vacation!”
I saw it with the sixth graders, too. For the first time in over a year, they were visiting me in the morning. In the final couple weeks, there would sometimes be 8 older kids at once in my classroom, looking around as if to memorize the details. They asked me if I remembered things from when they were in our class- funny stories, outrageous comments, surprises. They asked me about middle school. When I reminded them I hadn’t gone to school here, they asked me what it was like for me. I found myself remembering my own fear and happiness from ‘moving up.’ Class choice, independence, no more lines! But also, the fear of what was coming next, and wondering if your friendships would hold. Before they left, they almost always doubled back for a hug. Even the boys, who a month before gave me no more than a chin nod in greeting.
Our school does a lot of symbolic things around graduation. Since we’re K-6, most kids have spent the majority of their lives in this building, with these people. Some can’t remember a time before our school.
We end with a handshake. The 6th graders circle up outside, and one by one every grade comes through and shakes the hand of each graduating student. It’s incredibly sweet and touching. The younger kids love it, and it gives the older ones a sense of closure.
When I first started, it had taken me only a couple weeks to realize how much I loved my first class. Since then, I had been afraid of the moment I’d have to hug them goodbye at the handshake circle. I’d been afraid I’d cry too much, be too emotional.
I did ok! I did cry, but I smiled and laughed, too. I told them they were ready.
As I hugged one girl goodbye, one who visits often and cried hardest at the talk of leaving, I whispered to her “You’ve grown up so much!” “So have you!” She said back.
That made me realize another reason why that class meant so much to me.
I had been an assistant at the school I now work in for two years prior to getting my own class. That job had made me realize I wanted to be a teacher, and I had gone to grad school and done my student teaching in the same place. When I graduated with my masters, a position suddenly opened, and I got my dream job- staying right where I had been for two years prior.
I was hired in July, started in late August. In early October, just as I was getting my feet, my boyfriend of 3 years broke up with me. We’d been living together, talking about marriage. Suddenly I had my cat and my few worldly goods in my car, driving to my parents house. I was reeling. I lost so much- love, my home, my friends. It felt like I didn’t know who I was.
But I knew I was a teacher. I had those kids. And I could come in every day and forget how sad and lost and heartbroken I was. I spent 12 or more hours at school frequently in those days- there was always things to do! When everything shifted under me, I knew I was a teacher. I knew they loved me, and I loved them. At my lowest points, they were the brightest parts of my life.
Things got better, and they were there when they did. When I marvel at how the little ones who could barely write a paragraph or resolve a conflict have become such mature, sophisticated people and advanced learners, I see my own growth, too. I was a young, confused, sad- there’s no other word for it- kid. I end this year the proud owner of a house with a big yard, a well behaved dog and an unruly puppy. My wedding is in a month, and my fiance is literally the man of my dreams. I still fall down while playing capture the flag, can fake burp like nobody’s business, and laugh at bathroom humor- but I’ve got things together now in a way I didn’t at 24.
We’ve all come so far.
I’m going to miss my 6th graders, but I know they’ll come back to visit- just like the first class I ever worked with, as an assistant. They’re going into tenth now, and they like to stop by and grin at the shock on my face as I stare at them and realize who they are.
I’ll miss my 4th graders, too, but I’ll see them often. With every emotional goodbye, I realize two things: That things are never final, and we’ll see each other a lot; and that it never gets any easier to say goodbye.