Joni Mitchell was right.
“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?”
It is the last weekend of school time, and in my case, the last weekend ever of being an employed elementary teacher. This weekend usually is a sweet spot in a teacher’s life. Report cards finally done, the frenzy of June almost done and the summer just beginning.
Your work this weekend typically is to rev up your engine and be ready with: game ideas; party plans; potluck and music lists; end-of-year cards; and a 12-inch strategic-freezie – storage plan in a school with no central AC, one working freezer and 700 students. Oh, and get the script ready and find some suitable clothes for the grade 8 leaving ceremony right smack in the middle of it all.
This last week can be very, very, very long, but am I ever missing it. I have thought about this week ever since I decided to retire – 8 months ago. What would it be like? Would I be emotional? Sentimental? Overwhelmed? Probably. But this last week is not ending school the way things usually end and I am missing it. Yes, we have activities planned for the kids, on-line parties and games, gifts for the grade 8s, and a new way to say goodbye. But not in person. And I am such a person-person.
I will miss the sharp promise of a June morning before the heat hits and soaks the building. The hurried call-outs and reminders to colleagues as we rush through the halls. The chaotic clean-ups of student work: paper, posters, shoe boxes and rolled -up art. Errant shoes and lunch bags, inevitably filled with old cheese strings and wrappers. Locker cleanouts and buckets and spilled water and unreturned forms and envelopes. “You need this, Miss? ” (IEP return form, term one). The half-hearted slosh and application of water and soap to locker insides. Shopping and garbage bags full of winter coats, locker shelves, gym clothes, papers, papers, papers. And, the groans as they descend the stairs with a year’s worth of living.
I will miss our school clap-out after the grade 8 dance in the big gym. The whole school lined up in the downstairs hall in a hot crush of excitement. The PA system blasting “Celebration” and the rush of the “big 8s” as they parade down the hall, high 5’ing the little ones and dancing. The looks of the few who feel this is the last thing they want to do. For many of our students, this walk represents the end of 10 years at one school.
I will miss the crush of bodies as the grade 7 orchestra in white shirts nervously commandeer their string instruments through the hall with calls of “careful with that bass”. The hot procession as we all head over to the high school auditorium for our leaving ceremony. The harried plans for the 7s left behind: movies, water bottles, popcorn and warm freezies. Testing of the mics and the wooden podium, adjustment of giant fans to keep us cool, all the 7s in the orchestra pit below squeezing out the last practice of “O Canada”. The 8’s and their families coming into the foyer. Young women in teetering heels and wide smiles, clutching at each other; young men, some with shirts still tucked in, lining up for the procession. Former students coming for hellos and hugs and teasing about how tall they are now. “You are so short, Miss, you STILL teaching?” Parents and families filing in, the wheeze and hit of auditorium folding seats. Rising heat, students crossing the stage, laughter when someone does a flash dance move, a few tears, the valedictory, and the hot flush of relief when the recessional starts and we have completed another ceremony.
I will miss the last day that never seems to end. Rushed coffee and treats early in the morning with colleagues who are trying to sign report cards without coffee spills, make last-minute plans for 35 – degree outdoor play, securing freezie space. The grade 8s who come to school on Thursday and don’t really know what to do with themselves and how to leave. Yearbooks traded and signed and inevitable shouts of “OMG, I hate that picture of me!” The 2 – 3 pm party with hotly-contested playlists and chips and enough cherry coke to sink a ship. Hugs. Glances. Spills and shrieks. Paper plates and napkins smashed into overflowing recycling bins. Tears, smiles, looks down, hands brushing faces. And the length of the year and the length of the day and the heat turn you into the always practical technician, directing, re-directing, reminding, nagging the crowds. And then they are gone, many not knowing how to say goodbye. This is not a Hollywood movie, this is real life. Adults rush out to the front to wave and cheer as the school buses pull out into traffic. Small faces at windows, hands waving and a rare middle finger. Then it is quiet (once the office realizes that “School’s Out for Summer” in on its 7th go-around). And empty, quiet schools are the loneliest places.
So, I will miss the last typical week of school despite the heat, fatigue and chaos.
But I will always know what I had: an incredible school that gave me the chance to teach and learn. A humbling every day. Talented, supportive, funny colleagues. So many laughs. So many tears after 3 pm dismissal. Beautiful faces and so many, many stories. This week, faces and voices on screen. What a way to go for the grade 8 students and those of us retiring.
When I have the wherewithal to pause and review the landscape before the emotional roller coaster starts up once again