This time of year always makes me feel nostalgic, although if I’m honest, nostalgia is really a constant state of being for me. My students learn early on that my pot of emotions is always simmering, and all it takes is a beautiful line from literature, a student’s poem shared with the class, a picture book read-aloud, or the skillful development of character relationships in a story to make my tears bubble up and spill over the edge. At the beginning of each school year I tell my students, “In our classroom, we read stuff, we write stuff, and I cry.” I get skeptical looks at this pronouncement and then worried looks the first time it happens. After the first few times, though, they get used to it. They laugh at me, then they try and write well to see if they can be the one to make me cry with their beautiful words. The year goes on this way, and I fall in love with each of my classes more and more.
As 8th graders, my students are in their last year of middle school. They are eager to go to high school, anxious to drive, date, get a job; they do not yet view their world as being full of endings, but rather, full of beginnings. For me, though, as an 8th grade teacher, their leaving is an ending. They do come back and visit, and I do see them in the neighborhood, or around town. But it’s not the same as having them in my classroom every day, knowing their stories, loving them daily as those stories unfold.
Today, our school announcements began a countdown to the last day of school. Fifteen days. My students cheered, said “Ms.! Only fifteen days of school left!” in excitement and anticipation.
As they cheered, my eyes filled with tears and I bit my lip to stop them from falling. Luckily they were too busy talking about the end of year trip and summer break to notice me. Only fifteen days! It takes my breath away to think of such little time left. Some teachers begin the countdown after Spring Break, others begin after Christmas (!). It’s the main topic of conversation among the adults in the hall, in the workroom, in the teachers’ lounge. I understand – summer is awesome! I spend more time with my family, see more of my friends, take a much-needed mental break. However, I try my best to ignore the countdowns because, to me, it’s also a sad reminder that my kids are leaving. Our year together is about to end, and every year I never want it to end.
In addition to my students leaving middle school, the end of the school year brings other types of endings. I have several beloved co-workers who are retiring, which is a happy change in their lives. Other friends have children who are graduating from high school, their thirteen years of public schooling coming to an end. These endings had me feeling nostalgic (big surprise) and thinking of books that deal with big life changes, moving from one stage to the next and the mixture of sadness and excitement that accompany those changes. The books pictured here are all outstanding, and I cried reading each one (again, no surprise there). I’ll even be giving some of these books as gifts to the high school graduates I know, sending each one off with a story to fall into when their endings and beginnings feel too big.
Right now, the ending of my students’ 8th grade year feels too big. I look at my students and can’t imagine not seeing their faces every day. Can’t imagine not knowing their joys, their struggles, their successes. Will they be okay? Are they prepared? Will their peers be kind to them? Will they be kind to their peers? Will their teachers love them? Who will listen to their stories? Some of them often won’t be okay, due to circumstances out of their control. I worry about them the most. Will anyone help them? See them? I have hope that someone will.
To lower the flame on my pot of feelings, to bring my hot tears back down to a simmer, I’m doing what I always do when something feels too big. I read and I write. I get fifteen more days to read and write with these awesome kids. After they’re gone, I’ll see them around town, or at a high school event, or at the grocery store. I’ll shout their names, squeal and run up to them, then hug their necks tightly while their confused parents or friends look on awkwardly. I’ll go to their games and watch them play ball, or cheer, or march in the band. I’ll see them perform onstage in plays and choir concerts. I’ll clap loudly at their award ceremonies. They’ll do awesome things, I’ll get to see some of those things, and I will probably cry.
I’ve loved my kids this year. In August, I’ll have classes full of new faces. I will fall in love with that new group of students, just like every other year. We’ll read stuff, we’ll write stuff, and I’ll cry.
Or, maybe –
To Be Continued…