As I write this, I am listening to “So Far Away” by Carole King on repeat and eating an entire jar of cookie butter.
What caused this emotional binge eating?
The last day of school.
Over the last 4 days, I have been saying goodbye to all of my students. It was almost as bad as coming home from the mission, but this time I don’t get to buy myself a new wardrobe afterwards.
When I left school for the last time today, I went knowing that I will likely not see these students ever again. These people who I’ve spent the majority of my time with since August. These people who kept me together when I felt like I was falling apart. These people who still think it’s funny when I pretend to get mad and throw my shoe.
Nine months ago, I was terrified I would never make it through the school year. Things were not going well in my life and I didn’t know how I could face standing in front of a classroom of teenagers for eight hours a day, pretend that I was doing fine, and somehow focus myself on their needs and well-being. I prepared myself to survive the school year, graduate, and then find something else to do with my life.
Looking back, I realize how much these kids have come to mean to me. I remember the days I could hardly pull myself out of bed, but when I arrived at school, a girl would tell me how much she loved history class, and I felt like I had purpose.
I remember the kid who would throw things at me and yell at the beginning of the school year. He was the kid whom I could never could get to do work. We somehow started bonding over a love of empanadas and yesterday he wrote me a note saying that my class was the best part of his 8th grade year.
I remember the student who never said a word in class and refused to look me in the eye. When his mom saw his failing grade, she brought him to my classroom everyday after school until he was passing. After that, she didn’t need to force him to come but he and his friends would willingly stay and I would draw pictures to help them remember constitutional amendments, and we’d end up debating which state in Mexico was the best (Puebla, obviously).
There’s the two kids always sat in the back, did their work quickly and perfectly, and then read fantasy novels. Every now and then they would put a paper full of jokes they wrote themselves (which were actually funny) in my turn-in box so I would have a surprise in the middle of hours of grading. Yesterday, they surprised me again by playing Just Dance in my classroom for 3 straight hours during Activity Day.
There’s the girl, both my student and my teacher’s aide, who always got my jokes and pop culture references when no one else did and once read me an old tabloid magazine she found while cleaning out some files. A couple of times I had her I take things to my car for me, and when I got into my car after school, I found my dinosaur that is usually on my dashboard balancing on top of the steering wheel.
There’s the group of football players that called my class “The Puppy Class” because they would look up pictures of puppies to show me every day before class started.
There’s the two kids who, at the beginning of the year, were what made me dread teaching their class period. I may have started using their names as curse words in my house. One of these students ran into my classroom earlier this week on yearbook day so that I could sign his yearbook and he could say goodbye before his mom checked him out of school. The other told me I was his favorite teacher.
In that same class, the students asked me if I would have a dance battle with one of the kids in the class. I agreed to do it on the last day before Christmas break and used this as bribery to get them to work that term. When the day finally arrived, I asked the class what song we should dance to. One girl (who, quite frankly, terrified me and whom I put as far away as I could from everyone else because of her sporadic, volatile outburts at other students) popped her head up and suggested the Space Jam theme song. That class period was the first time I saw her smile. The class voted me the loser of the dance off, although I was clearly the better dancer.
And the student who visited me almost daily to update me on the encounters she’d had with the boy she had a crush on. It was usually him waving to her in the hall or saying hi.
Then there’s the 7th grader who I had the first semester, who never knew what was going on and never wore his shoes and always tried to hide in the cupboards and sometimes cried. I worried about what to do with him and was sure he hated the class because of how much I nagged him. When the semester ended, he told me he tried to get the counselors to let him take Utah History again the next term because he was happiest there.
There’s the group of girls, some of them not even my students, who came to my classroom every Friday after school to sing me songs they’d arranged in 3 part harmony.
There was the time I offered extra credit for memorizing the Preamble to the Constitution. I told the students that I’d give them more points for singing it, like in SchoolHouse Rock. They asked if they could also play instruments, or dance, or stand on their heads or, even do it underwater for even more points. Consequently, I had a girl try to bring a bucket to school so she could fill it with water, stand in it on her head, and sing, dance, and play the ukulele upside down.
There were the girls who invited me to their dance recitals, softball games, and school plays which I would look forward to for weeks and bring all of my friends to. My social calendar has now suddenly become very empty.
As an intern on a one year contract, I finish this school year unemployed and with no job prospects for the fall. Knowing that I might not have another group of awkward and lovable pubescent adolescents to take their place makes the end of this year even sadder. I feel a close connection to my students and the thought of not seeing them again makes me want to cry (and also has).
When I remember how I felt in August, I can’t believe I ever doubted that this was what I wanted to spend all of my time doing. Now I want to spend my summer reading books on curriculum development and Andrew Jackson’s presidency and classroom management and colonial Massachusetts so I can become the teacher these kids deserved and didn’t get.
Teaching. It gets in your blood.