Friday, May 29, 2009

Roller coasters and goodbyes

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I had a hard time today as the moment came inauspiciously nearer for the winding up of our learning; the end of our year together. This year’s class was harder for me to lose than students in years past for some reason.

Why is this?

To be honest, I’m not so sure myself…

Perhaps because this was a new school for me as well as an entirely new grade; in many ways I felt like a first year teacher again…for some reason there’s something special about a teacher’s first class that the others seem to lack. This class felt an awful lot like that.

As we watched the video of our class activities throughout the year, the students were all singing along with the music set to video. The year was unfolding before us all—emblazoned on the screen of our darkened classroom; as my students’ voices blended with that of the music, I felt tears rising in my eyes.

I was going to miss this motley crew of little people who’d all come from different worlds. Forced—by circumstance—into one classroom, and who’d had a teacher who expected them all to become friends with each other.

Several of them balked. Many of them complained. All of them survived.

As I watched them together today—as well as last night—it really hit me just how close this class had become over the course of nine months; individuals who were strangers and wanted nothing to do with each other, but rather wanted to simply play with their ‘other friends’ in different classes were now connected. They were attached. They had become friends.

The music ended and the class started the ritualistic and notorious shirt signing—as well as the “Zs” drawn on everyone’s foreheads—a tradition started some 8 years ago which didn’t die when I moved schools; far too many students followed me who’d had older siblings. I had a sneaking suspicion that that little ‘tradition’ would continue at the end of each year for many more years to come.

The bell rang and my class was given their teacher placements for next year—the instructor they’d have for nine months after a nice, long summer to forget all they’ve already learned. There was a bustle of chaos as happy friends cheered when they found they’d be in the same classroom, and gloom when they found out that they’d be in a different one from the friends they’d shared so many life experiences with..

My students all wanted to be in the same place. They wanted to be in the same classroom. They all wanted to be together.

For the second time I felt tears pricking my eyes.

As I was kneeling down to sign someone’s shirt, Joey ran up behind me and wrapped his arms around my neck. He just held on. For a long time, he didn’t say anything. A moment later he whispered, “I’m going to miss you, Mr. Z.”

“I’m going to miss you, too.” I whispered back to the boy hanging around my neck like a Superman cape.

As suddenly as he’d come, his embrace was broken and he vanished with a crowd of friends, all uttering the chant of “See you after summer, Mr. Z!”

In a flurry of backpacks and standard reports, the students trickled from the room in twos and threes; finally, the classroom was silent and I found myself alone.

I cried.

I was saddened to end this last adventure; to conclude this most recent chapter in a story which was still full of so many blank, unwritten pages.

I didn’t feel like doing anything; as a result, I moved a few items about the classroom in a deadened sort of way; my body was merely going through the motions of doing something.

A feeling settled over me, like a physical force which pulled me down to a chair behind a desk littered with remnants of the school year. It was starting to feel like one of those days where you just sit in the house and eat straight from the mayonnaise jar with spoon.

The door opened.

A brown-haired boy I recognized came through it; he was in the fourth grade—soon to be the fifth. He saw me sitting at my desk and strolled back to where I was; a reserved smile on his face.

“Mr. Z, I found out who my teacher is going to be for next year,” he said in breathless awe.

“You did?”

The boy dug a wrinkled envelope from his backpack and brandished it proudly; from inside he pulled a typewritten letter. He unfolded it carefully and pointed to the name printed on the crisp sheet of ashen paper.

Mr. Zimmerman

I gave this boy a sincere smile, still feeling a bit melancholy with the rollercoaster of a day it had been. “I’m glad you’re in my class,” I told him. “I’m excited for next year.”

“I am too,” he responded with a thrill of elation in his voice, like standing there in my classroom were more than he could handle. For a moment I thought his face was going to split wide open—wide as his smile was stretched.

He carefully folded his letter and sacrosanctly slid it back into the envelope where it was again deposited into his backpack. When he finished, he lingered for a moment or two, uttering, “Well, I’ll see you next year!” and then headed for the door.

After a few steps he paused, and turned with a grin. “Mr. Z, do you know the best part about walking?”

“About walking?”

When I admitted that I didn’t know this choice little tidbit to the secret of strolling, he promptly replied, “Your arms can just do whatever they want…they can just flop around and it’s okay.” He grinned and then added. “It’s gonna be a great year, Mr. Z.”

With this he opened the door and vanished

“It already is, Joey.” I replied. “It already is.”


Corine said...

The chapter you and your kids wrote together in the past 9 months, is really going to influence the rest of the unwritten pages in future chapters… your part in helping to write your kids’ chapter books isn’t really over, because it’s effects are everlasting..

Joey will remember so many little things that happened in the chapter that he wrote with Mr. Z, and he will add to it and build upon it. The way he feels about himself, the friends he chooses, the choices he makes, they will all be influenced by the chapter written with Mr. Z. They will be better than they would have been without you. And you got to be a part of it.

What a cool occupation you have. How many people get to be such a big part of so many people’s lives? How many people get to have so many friends? They will all grow up, and they will remember and love you still, because you loved them first.

P.S. This really is a great year!:D

Gerb said...


I can not wait for the "Moments With (next year's) Joey"!

Jayne said...

I don't think it could've been better said. Fantastic. You had my eyes filling up too. Thanks.

K.J. said...

Next year will be a great year...and so was this one!
The end sure came fast! I am pretty sure next year will be here before we know it!

Linn said...

That definitely made me teary. You are the best friend!

Kris said...

You are the bestest teacher ever!I can't wait til your next chapter in "The Life Of Joey" continues.I want to read this to Madison's class just so they know "It's O.K." By they way thanks for the good cry!

Valerie said...

It must be so hard being a teacher. Like being in an MTC district, over and over again!! My heart feels tender now, as we say our goodbyes, your thoughts really resonated with me. You give your children the greatest gift a teacher could give: love. How I wish my girls could be in your classroom!!

Annette said...

Ya, it definitely was a great year, and I was proud to be a part of the awesome aventures of this year's class. Your incoming students are the luckiest in the world! You are worth every page of homework. Although I didn't always enjoy it, you made everything that happened worth it.
-Red Pepper

annette said...

I love this word: sacrosanctly. I've never heard it before. Just as Joey sacrosanctly slid his letter back into his backpack, I imagine you too have sacrosanctly slid this past year into your backpack of memories, to be taken out and cherished from time to time, all the while, looking forward to new adventures and new Joeys. :)

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