A child asked me on Thursday why I was putting their books in boxes. “Teacher, we are not finished reading the books in the reading center! Do you think that we don’t even like those books? Put them back on the shelf! PLEASE!!”…other children quickly started asking questions. No matter what I said, they could not understand that we had reached the very last day of school.
I normally do not start totally taking apart my classroom until the children are gone home on the last day of school. They get very sad because they usually think that the school is the prettiest place that they have ever seen. It is true…many of the children have never been very far out of their neighborhood. Our school is very important to the structure of the neighborhood. I always have many parents who also attended elementary school in this very location. I’ve never felt or seen such a sense of community. It is amazing and heart-breaking at the same time. I want to say…”Stretch your wings! See the world! Go for adventure! This is a big city! Look for opportunities!”…but, these are only five year olds. So many of their parents are very young. Some parents are older, but have all of the responsibilities associated with multiple children. The parents may not be able to take them to the museums or the zoo or a major league game. The monetary resources are just not there. On the last day of school, I realize that I am giving many of them back to an existence filled with poverty.
Every year, I am emotional about the last day of school. I want the future to be so bright for these children. I want the parents to keep on the same road that we have been on all year…to introduce the wonders of the world beyond our school. In a few weeks, I will be able to let go. I know that I can’t shape their world beyond this year. I will always care about them and some of them I will hopefully hear about as the years go by. However, this year is so very different. As I have mentioned in my recent posts, I am retiring. Let me say that more correctly…now I am truly retired. I am very excited to have the time to try some new activities…to travel to places we have never been, to learn to play the piano (I took accordion lessons for nine years…surely I can still read music!), to take another watercolor class, to learn about my new camera, to make some new friends, to enjoy old friends, to volunteer at the zoo, and on and on! I worry and wonder…I have been attached to such a minute by minute schedule for so long…I hope that I can push procrastination far away! Sometimes, it is nice to just do nothing in particular…but, I like to be busy…I work better when there are deadlines to meet. I guess my newspaper days will always be a part of me.
I suppose that I work better under pressure. Goodness…what really compares to the pressure of being responsible for the education of 22 five year olds? Teaching is just not as easy as some people think. I know. There was a time when I thought teaching would be a breeze. I know better now! I also know that teaching has shaped my life in ways that I can only now perceive. I have become more tolerant of differing cultures. I have grown more intolerant of parents who are in and out of jail. And some years, that does happen and I see the results on the faces of the children. I have become more patient, sometimes more impatient, sometimes more direct and sometimes more subtle. I have learned the power of listening. I have learned the power of holding a child’s hand on the way to the cafeteria. I have learned how to get the children on my side…to respect me and listen to me. I hope.
I hope, I hope. That is all I can do. My last class is out of my hands. I said good-bye. The school gave me a wonderful and fun party. There was another retiree and two teachers who were married during the year. We had a lot to celebrate. I cleaned my room. Our daughter helped pack everything up. She helped me put together my first classroom when she was very little. We’ve gone full circle and I am proud. I said thank you and see you later to my school friends. I took a picture of my classroom. A classroom waiting for a new teacher and new children. New laughter. New knowledge. New fun. Turn off the lights in room #119. I have finished my task and I am happy.
“See you later” flowers from my class.