There’s nothing sadder in June than an empty classroom, an empty hallway with lockers standing open, the last remnants of students scattered on the floor. In August, that same hallway and classroom will still stand empty, but the freshly waxed floors will emit a feeling of hope and promise for the upcoming school year. But for now, it is all about what has been, the good, the bad, the memories.
Packing the classroom is bittersweet. As I tuck away the notes from students, the pictures they have drawn me, the cards from them and parents, I find the ones from years gone by, and linger over those, remembering other smiling faces. Teaching really is a journey, a trip carefully orchestrated. All the stops along the path are the students you meet each year. Just as on vacation, some stops are enjoyable, ones you wouldn’t mind visiting again. Others, you leave with a ‘been there, done that’ feeling, knowing you’ve grown somehow from the experience, but don’t need to repeat it.
When I taught 8th grade, watching those kids leave the last day was sad, knowing they would disappear to the high school. Most of them I would never see again except in passing here and there. A few would wander back to the middle school halls to visit on occasion, those visits getting scarcer as the years went by. Letting them go was difficult and heartbreaking.
Teaching 7th grade is easier at the end of the year. The kids will be back, just around the corner. They won’t be ‘mine’ anymore, but I will see them every day in the hall. In September, many will still congregate by my room before school, causing a bottleneck in the hall, telling tales of summer, of their new classes and teachers, whining they wish they were still in 7th grade. As the year goes by, the start to wander away, finding their new hangout location, usually by the boys’ bathroom, causing a new bottleneck in traffic. My new 7th graders start to migrate to block the traffic outside my door, leaving behind their 6th grade memories.
Ending this year was different though. I will teach one section of 8th grade next year, so some of those students will be MINE again next year! It was a weird feeling, seeing them go, but knowing they will be back. Next year will be a journey we travel together, with me teaching Algebra 1 for the first time, learning alongside the students. I feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility to this group, the top of the top, the cream of the class.
Algebra 1 is always a tough class for kids. Many students end of taking it again as freshmen, they first experience with failure. How will I handle that experience? Failing a student I know has worked as hard as possible…
When I first starting teaching, an E I gave out bothered me. I thought every student should strive for the A. But as time has passed, I have come to reluctantly accept some failures as unavoidable.
The failures in Algebra, will they be avoidable? Will I be able to break the trend of having many students repeat this crucial class? I feel like a new teacher all over again, butterflies in my stomach. It will be an entirely new journey, with familiar faces along the way. I embrace it with trepidation and anticipation, and even a bit of dread.
For now, the Algebra 1 book sits on my dining room table, my summer homework project. Armed with the teacher’s manual, the exams, the support materials, I am determined to be ready when the empty hallways and lockers beckon in the September.