Miss Joyce, and I began our longstanding best friendship during our awkward days in 6th Grade. She desires to live forever in that year, for some odd reason, as she is currently a 6th Grade teacher in the Twin Cities. She enjoys cooking for friends, getting lost in a literary classic, coaching basketball, laughing uncontrollably (mostly with me), and sipping on a fine whiskey. Sara loves those in her life very deeply, and is a magnificently gifted woman.
When I sit down and attempt to explain my thoughts and feelings in relation to the end of the school year, I’m inundated from a million different directions. The end of the school year often brings utter joy and merriment from students, while most teachers I know, myself included, express such jubilation with a celebratory beer and deep sigh of relief. A break. Finally! After toiling for nine straight months, I am able to experience freedom…and perhaps a little more sleep. No more being confined to my local coffee shop every and because I need to grade papers. No more rushing back from social gatherings because I fear sleep deprivation will result in my behavior toward students being likened to a hungry bear searching for food come morning.
What people don’t realize is that teaching is not a cush job. I don’t leave school and cease thinking about my students. It doesn’t stop at their academic performance, and assessing their papers and tests. When I go home at night, my students are forever on my mind. Ask any of my friends what subject matter I discuss most often, and they will, without hesitation, tell you: My students. I marvel at their innocence, I laugh and smile at their joy, I worry about them, I have hopes for their future, I wonder if any of the material, primarily the life lessons, will actually stick with them, I long for them to know and remember how deeply I love each of them. Over the last nine months I have spent over 2,000 hours of my life with these students. In seven days I will wake up, and for the most part, have no contact with them again for three months. For some who are switching schools, I may never see them again. Re-reading that last sentence breaks my heart.
Everyone tells you that the second year of teaching is far better than the first. After having experienced my second year, I can tell you with confidence that it’s true. My lesson plans are ready, I have a sense for what I’m doing, and even grading seems to take less time. They don’t, however, prepare you for the gut wrenching pain of your “second good-bye.”
Last year at this time I was blissfully unaware of how deeply I would miss my incredible, hormonally raged, behaviorally challenging, capable, awkward, hilarious, curious, and delightful eleven to thirteen year olds. Ignorantly, I waved and hugged them good-bye, and promptly went off to enjoy my celebratory beer, or in that case, whiskey. The days went by, and my heart once having been so full of love and life from these students’ daily presence, recognized a deep emptiness and loneliness. I know the ache, and I’m confident I’ll experience it again because I spend every day with 26 of the most wonderful people that I know: My students.
Their joy, innocence, fervor for life, curiosity to learn and grow, desire to become who they are inspires me daily. No one can frustrate me like my students, no one can make me laugh or understand goodness like them either.
The countdown toward the last day continues, and while my students are excitedly anticipating freedom from school, I am doing my best to savor every last moment. Six more days I get to spend with these little gems. I hope to God that He gives me the strength to endure day seven. Until we are reunited next Fall when their awkwardness is at its height, and their concern for being cool may, in fact, prevent them from acknowledging my existence. This year’s sixth grade class will forever hold a special place in my heart.