It’s the very end of the year.
I always try to let the kids help me as I pack up the classroom for the summer. I know that some teachers feel that its too hard on the kids to watch their classroom being taken apart in these final days.
But as a teacher of those tender, smart, observant fifth graders, I have always felt that it is a healthy part of saying “goodbye” to have the kids participate as I “close up shop”. We work together, my kids and I, taking down posters and finding the dried up markers. We organize the books, we clean out the supplies.
I think that it is helpful for them to thoughtfully pack away the sweet memories of our time together. We laugh, we sigh, we carefully fold up the year and put it into a safe place.
Usually, this process brings me a bittersweet joy. Usually, it helps me to think, “Good bye, beautiful children! Hello, next crop of kids!”
This year, though, is very different.
This year I am carefully packing away every little bit of my teaching life. Every single item pulls at my heart. Every tiny objects presents a small dilemma. Do I leave this little woven basket to the colleague who will follow me? What about this old book of Civil War photos? What did I buy with my own money, years ago? What belongs to my school?
I carefully wrap up the little blue pinch pot that my first born child made for me some 15 years ago. For all those years, it has held paperclips for the class to use. Now it will come home, to rest in empty sadness on my shelf. I pick up my brass recess bell, rubbing my thumb along its worn edge. How many kids have raced into line at the sound of its pealing voice? I sigh, putting it down in the pile of things to leave. I will have no more use of that quintessential symbol of elementary school. I leave it for the young woman who will take my place here in the fall.
I am calm and relatively serene as I slowly pack my personal items in my bag. I am ready to go. It is time. It is most likely past time. I am strong, and resolute. I am ready.
Then I raise my eyes to the back of my bookshelf. To the place where my most special items have been stored. And I see this:
My little boys gave me this paper, on my birthday, 14 years ago.
I picture their sweet, smiling faces, presenting me with this birthday card. I can feel myself hugging them close, so touched at the tender words. I can feel their pride, see them grinning at me.
I carefully, slowly, take my precious birthday card down from the bookshelf.
I sit at my desk, just for a moment, seeing my little boys. Seeing the long parade of children who have made me laugh and made me so proud after all these years of teaching.
I reach for a tissue, pull myself together. I carefully pack up my beautiful birthday gift and place it in my workbag to take home.