I cried four times last week as I told my classes I was leaving them.
Three of those times were with my first class. I knew it would be hardest telling them because they’re my advanced kids I’ve been with for two years and those dorky kids love me. And I love them. My announcement was so out of left field and the looks on their faces just broke my heart. I eventually just turned my back to them and stared at the white board so I could get myself together. And so I didn’t have to look them in the eye for a moment.
My next class was easier, but I still cried. They told me they were mad at me and weren’t going to be my friends anymore.
8th graders try to act big and tough, but inside, not so much.
By the next two classes, word had spread and I didn’t have to witness falling faces and teary eyes. I just got their wrath and questions and hurt which I was a little more prepared to handle.
But today is going to be hard. It’s my last day. My room is empty, the posters are gone, the books are in storage. I’ll be walking out at 3:00 with empty hands and a lifetime of memories that shaped and molded me in endless ways.
A few months after I started working here, Chris and I married and I got to try on the Graham name for the first time. It felt weird and ill-fitting after twenty five years of being a Ritter. Being called Ms. Graham was hard to get used to and I often forgot to answer when someone said my new name.
I waddled down these halls as my body grew two beautiful baby girls. I showed off swollen ankles and early sonogram pictures to seventh graders as they shared in my joy and excitement. These co-workers threw my first official baby shower and came to visit when I brought Elliott Quinn home.
The people I’ve gotten to do life with for the past ten years, staff and students, have changed me profoundly. I’ve cried in meetings, laughed uncontrollably in lunch rooms, stood after school for hours in these halls talking about students, our families, our frustrations, and our joys. Years ago, I lost range of motion on my right thumb breaking up a fight and I’ll carry that injury with me forever. I’ve collected weave from hallways and bathrooms to add to teacher collections. I’ve stood next to friends nine times on the last day of school waving off buses as some students waved back with their whole hand and some waved with just one finger. I’ve been called every name under the sun. I’ve received love letters from seventh grade boys that make me feel creepy and I’ve received thank you cards from students and parents that still sit in my keepsake box at home.
My heart has been broken and crushed here, but it has also grown and swelled. Teaching is a careful dance of love and hate, of stress and fun. Some days I handled it well and some days I did not.
A lot of my favorite educators left this place before me. The last few years have been a revolving door of people coming and going and, in a way, that made it easier to leave. The experienced, mentor teachers that I looked up to have all retired. My good friend Tom left in August for another school. My former teammates have moved on to other careers because the climate of teaching is horrible and many smart, hardworking, gifted teachers just couldn’t do it anymore.
In between these walls, I learned how to grieve the loss of a good friend while surrounded by heartbroken teachers and shocked students. The passing of my friend and fellow teacher, Joe, was my first adult experience of profound loss and it shaped my last few years in the classroom in monumental ways. Some days I still don’t believe he’s not just around the corner hiding with his damn snake trying to scare me again.
My students are frustrating and inspiring. They have made bad days less bad and then other times made good days suck. I worry about them when I go home. I cry for them when I read their essays or meet their parents and understand what they’re up against. I cheer for them as they go on to the high school and when they go to college. And I love that they remember my promise of allowing them to be my friend on Facebook once they graduate. I have former students having babies, getting married, traveling the world, and changing lives. And while we probably don’t often credit our middle school language arts teachers as driving forces in our adult lives, I like to live in the delusional world where that really does happen and everything they are is thanks to me.
Being a teacher is wonderful. Delusional, but wonderful.
My very first teaching job was a middle-of-the-year English position with high school sophomores and seniors. They had been through three teachers by the time I started in January and I had some major work to do to break down the walls they had built up from teachers leaving them and a million other things that came with teaching in an inner-city school. I was a young, inexperienced teacher that had a passion for the written word and a fire that made me ridiculously confident in a way that makes me cringe now. But it seems apropos that I’m leaving in the middle of a school year just like this whole crazy thing started so many years ago. I hate the uncertainty and the mess I’m leaving behind. Losing a teacher in the middle of the year is hard on kids. I’ve struggled with those consequences a lot, and it’s made me lose a lot of sleep.
On Tuesday I was carrying boxes to my car and one of our janitors stopped and asked if I was leaving. We talked for a while about what I had decided and he shared his desire to retire early so he could be home more with his kids before they graduated. We finished our conversation and I continued on to my car. About ten minutes later, I was heading out with more boxes and from down the hallway, he shouted at me, “You’re doing the right thing, baby girl!” as I turned the corner.
I just smiled. He’s right.
What I’m doing is hard. What I’m doing doesn’t make total sense. What I’m doing makes me sad and happy and excited and slightly nauseous, but it’s the right thing.
I am doing the right thing.
My Creston Indians: thank you for the learning. I came here looking to change the world and you, instead, changed mine. I am a better, wiser, calmer, more patient, and kinder person because of you. Keep fighting the hard fight and doing what seems impossible because educating and loving our kids is hard. Do it anyway. You reward is coming, I can feel it.