The Last Week of School

The chalkboard in my classroom displays an over-sized “5” on it! It’s an announcement, a hope, an applauding encourager to indicate that the finish line is in sight. Five more days of school, which could be slimmed down to say there are two more days of instruction and three days of throwing water on thoughts of student dumbness sparking.

Like runners facing the last mile of a marathon foot race while being chased by a herd of confused gerbils, teachers head toward the finish. In the coming few days as they say goodbye to kids who they have bonded with in various ways the last nine months, there will be relief, revelation, and regret.

The relief will come in knowing that a school year like no other is concluding. That is, the trail of the past school year has had as many switchbacks as Barr Trail that leads hikers up Pike’s Peak. The direction and directives then back of one week would be switched for the next week and the other direction the next. Virtual learning, hybrid, remote, quarantines, teachers in quarantine and students in person, cohorts, cafeteria divisions…mercy! it resembled a passenger on Frontier Airlines trying to get to Florida by way of Phoenix, Las Vegas, Houston, Charlotte, and Memphis. Most teachers have adjusted well to the numerous changes, but the mental, physical, and emotional fatigue has begun to show itself. Relief is coming in the form of ten weeks of a different schedule that will be distinguished by fishing destinations, relaxed reading while sitting on a porch swing, lawn mowing, and wondering what in the world to do on an event-less June afternoon?

Revelation will take different forms. It will include revelations of understanding what was and who he/she really was, and revelations about what will be. I’ve discovered that as I ponder each of my students. Some of them have become heartbreakers as I’ve become more familiar with their family situations and home chaos. The school struggles of some and the academic apathy of others are simply ripple effects of what and who have shaped their lives. I can use the safety and coursework of a classroom to try to distract them, but the pain of their brokenness is an ongoing weight on their shoulders. The sobering realization that I can’t have an effect on every student grieves me.

But there’s also the revelation that Johnny Junior, who seemed to annoy you on Day 1, is simply proficient at being annoying. It wasn’t a mistake or miscalculation. Your first-day perception was dead-on! He has pushed your buttons so many times it’s permanently pressed in. He’s Dennis the Menace times ten! In regards to him, you started counting down the days last August. You may already be writing sympathy notes to whoever his eighth-grade teachers are going to be.

And then there are those students who are revelations of hope. On the days that have seemed a week-long, they have brought a grin to your groans, and optimism about their potential. They are the kids who say thank you each day when they leave class and appreciate their teachers’ efforts, the ones who seem to already have a grasp on what is important and what is excess.

Finally, there are the regrets. The list is long and, in some ways, guilt-producing. I regret not understanding my students’ culture more, a dinosaur living in the land of Minecraft. The verbiage sometimes was incomprehensible to my AARP brain. It brought back memories, weird as it sounds, of the semester during my seminary years when I took Hebrew…a square student in a round language hole.

I regret not helping struggling students through the times of remote learning. When I say help I mean being able to come alongside them in their emotional and mental distress, their social isolation. Learning how to organize an essay doesn’t seem very important or pertinent to a student who feels she is in the midst of a long, dark tunnel with no sign of light to indicate its end.

I regret having to say goodbye to the students I bantered with daily, the end of handing out awarded or begged-for Smarties, and the laughter of my teaching team. Our team of four celebrated birthdays, gained pounds by eating our science teacher’s quarter-pounder cookies, saw the social studies teacher learn new teaching tricks, and marveled at our math teacher’s increasing collection of moose-related accessories. I’ll miss them as I fade off into the sunset. And I’ll really, really miss the daily strategizing with and instruction of my South African-accented, long-tenured, and multi-talented co-teacher. We played a rendition of “Good Cop-Bad-Cop”, I being the counselor and she the boot camp drill sergeant. I brought laughter to her daily school life and she brought a new education to one who is more knowledgeable about Tinker Toys than teaching apps!

The last regret is that I’ll be done. Sounds weird…counting down the days, but then having regrets about the school year coming to an end. Sounds more mixed up than a seventh-grader trying to figure out the difference between an idiom, a metaphor, and hyperbole.

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