I have thirty school days until graduation. Actually, since today is pretty much done, twenty-nine. And I’m counting. It’s not because I don’t like my job. I LOVE MY JOB. But I miss sleeping in past 5:25 in the morning and knowing that the ability to turn off my alarm clock and bury my head under the pillow for a couple more hours is quite alluring. Being able to read without having to grade is alluring.
But, at the same time, the countdown to graduation is also very painful. This year has been among the best in my life; I have loved (still love) my students. They are the texture of my life; their stories, words, smiles are the warp and weft that knit my lessons together. And it’s so hard to see that they are getting ready to get off the carousel (see earlier blog to understand the metaphor).
Today, I was talking with my students about graduation and something and I can’t really remember what I was saying because a student wrapped her hands over her face as her shoulders started trembling. I thought she was laughing hysterically and was trying (pitifully) to hide her expression so that I wouldn’t see her as being disrespectful.
She was crying.
Oh, my sweet, wonderful young woman, I’m so sorry that she was crying. I thought maybe one of her classmates had said something that either upset her or had made her laugh so much that she was crying. I didn’t even realize that she was crying until she left the room and then came back in holding the huge roll of toilet paper that I use in lieu of tissues (toilet paper=cheap/free. Tissues=expensive and quickly disappearing).
I was still comfortably oblivious…thinking that maybe it was allergies. Come on, I don’t know why people think I’m smart. I am idiot half the time and a fool the other half. I just know how to string together pretty words and sentences. I’m so friggin naive, it’s ridiculous.
Anyhow, today, I had my students complete problem-solution analysis on problems in the school as a preamble to looking at the problems on 9/11. As I circulated the room, I approached my beloved student who had stopped crying and asked her if she was all right. She reassured me that she was fine; however, her peers briefly teased her about her crying. I asked her why she had wept and, suddenly, her hands were back over her face as she broke down again.
This time, I saw it immediately and tried to comfort her. As her friends sort of teased her, she blurted out how I “touched [her] life.”
My heart broke a little. Last Christmas, this lovely young woman had given me a gift that was like a candy dish with a cute top; inside it are the words “You are a blessing.” I have that gift on my desk, but I hadn’t really looked at it in a while (in my defense, I haven’t sat at my desk in about three months). So, as I stood once more in the center of my classroom and helplessly watched as this young woman mourned graduating from high school because she was going to have leave my classroom, I just felt like I was disintegrating.
It never ceases to amaze me how much of an impact a teacher can have on his/her students. I am always aware of the impact my students have on me. Tragically, the more difficult students can be the ones whom make the most obvious impression. However, wrapped around my heart are the fingerprints of students I have known over the years, people like Whitney from Roanoke County whom I used to call “Tongue.” Or Gaston, Alison, Stephanie from a middle school I taught at before moving to my high school.
As I turn the pages of my memories, I touch upon Alex (called Bunny), Hannah (called Beast), or Jillian (my Jilly Bean). Another year, Chris who died ten years ago and his younger brother Jacob. Dani, Jenna, Chris (who sadly died about five years ago), Lauren, Alex, Anna, Nissa (who left school to buy strawberries), Matt (who used to sit on tiny puddles of water that I left on his chair as a lesson for why he should never be late to class). As more years elapse, I touch upon sepia tinged photographs of Jake, Robbie, Paul, Alexis, Colby, Melanie, Patrick (cowlicks are created by babies spinning in the uterus), Karen, Elliot, Katy, Danny, Jin, Stephanie, Brad, Roshahn, Omer, Andrew, Gray, Stevie, Jake-C, Jake-L (Procto-Man….”I’ll just use my finger), Alex (“Come on Torvald and help me dance!”), Dave (Tool-Boy), Sarah, Farah, Naomi, Daniel who had an ecosystem on his shoulders, Craig, Brittany, Kristen, Eric, Noah, Liza, Katy, Kim, Sarah, Heather, Heather, Hannah, Carolyn, Sarah, Brian, the girls of Pixie Hollow, Amanda, Zak, Madeline, Amanda again, Ashley, Andrew, Grant, Alan, John, Bethany, Dani, Asya, Will (who has read all of Shakespeare’s plays and poems), Matt, Cameron, Mary, RJ, Jeff, Chesney, Josh, Angela, Radiance, Starr, Aimee Lou, Derrick, Jordan, Ian, Tim, Ian (who has a cow on his arm), Jerry (who can’t raise his arms over his head without passing out), Steven, Jonathan, James, Lucas, Sara, Brittany, Michael, Michelina, Carmella, Quashawn, Lavon, Jennifer, Sydney (called Twitch), Kat (who has a real name but I can never remember it), Tristan, Sean (no puns please), Nick, Hunter, Avery, Shannon, Darienne, Rachel, Kristina, Jennifer, Robbie, Brett (called Wreck-It-Ralph), Jacob, Andrew (called Mandrew), Keri (Vanellope Van Schweetz), Kayla, Morgan, Aleyah, Morgan, Chris, Jordan, Austin, Will, Matt, Rebecca, Stephanie, Kendal, Kyra, Chris, Naomi, Joanna, Coleman, Nathan, Kathaiya, Tayla, Candyce, Atia, Asia, Trinity, Jennifer, Laura who goes by Vincent, Macaela who goes by Michael, Catherine, David, Amir, Simone, Sharae, Megan, Melissa, Breanna, Sam, Austin, Trey, Nick, Kyla, Rainey, Gabby, Raechel, Andrea, Daeja, Haley, Hayley…… I have so many names that I have omitted without intention. As I think I am ready to move forward, another string of names and faces interrupt my stream of consciousness and I am swept away again into memories.
I hugged this young woman today and tried to breathe into her all the love that is within me because her tears are sacred. They are the most honest and real form of emotion that could ever be offered and I am honored that I have been witness and the recipient of her love.
As twenty-nine school days prepare to unravel in my fingers and I hear the sound of my alarm clock becoming dimmer and dimmer, I must also remember that my celebration should not pre-empt the emotions my seniors are feeling as they leave behind their old worlds and shed the skins of their childhoods.