I finished up my ninth year of teaching a few weeks ago. From a classroom standpoint, this year was one of my easier ones. Students weren’t abnormally crazy (middle school is crazy in general, but some years are extra crazy) and my year seemed to flow pretty easily.
But in other ways it was hard and painful.
As I walked back to the building after waving off the buses on the last day of school, I mentioned to my friend Tom that I couldn’t believe we had made it a whole school year without Joe. Standing there with my hand in the air as bus after bus pulled away from the sidewalk for the last time this year, I had flashbacks to last year’s send off as I stood next to Joe. He’s even in my Instagram picture of that last day and I remember how annoyed I was that his big head was in my shot.
Now I wished that his big head could have been there ruining more last-day shots.
The end of the school year was hard for students too. Our eighth graders that we’re sending off be freshman next year are the last class to really know Joe. They were his last hurrah. A day didn’t pass this year that some former student wouldn’t stop by and say hi, ask about things, or share a memory of Joe. They needed me and I needed them. We were lifelines to a time that now feels like a fuzzy dream, sweet but distant.
Those eighth graders have had a rough two years: first losing Joe last summer and, then at Christmas, their math teacher was diagnosed with breast cancer and left unexpectedly to fight for her young life. Those kids have had lots of loss and heartache this year.
So leaving was hard for them. They learned hard and fast that nothing is guaranteed.
As the days wound down they would stop by my room, dropping off letters and asking me to pose for pictures. Some would cry. Some would share they had been struggling with depression and that our talks this year–talks about nothing and everything–saved them. Some would talk books and ask me what they should read over the summer. Some just hugged and, wordlessly, left.
Goodbyes are hard, especially for kids that have had to say goodbye a lot in their short lives.
I know I need to write about this group of kids, these wonders that will one day change worlds. But I can’t figure out how. I’ve had time to sit with my memories of them and I don’t know how to convey their importance.
This is the class that I accidentally showed an inappropriate scene of Midsummer Night’s Dream to when I thought I had skipped all the bad parts. It involved a donkey and they have never let me forget it. This is the class that saw me sprint down the hallway in heels to break up a fight and then compared me to Beyonce for how well I ran in them. I read Counting By 7s and Code Name: Verity to these kids and cried in front of them when characters were hurting. They learned that books make me cry easily and that I feel too much for characters. I stood in line with this class as we paid our respects to a friend and as we laughed through tears at how ridiculous that man was.
Those kids, the class of 2019, hold a special place in my heart. I have had the pleasure of teaching so many great kids, but these, these kids, are resilient and strong, caring and compassionate. I will miss them next year. The hallways will be a little less bright because they are gone.