Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Summer Off

I am a school teacher.  I love the hustle and bustle of running a classroom.  One of the common misconceptions about being a teacher is that we are over the moon with joy when the last day of the school year comes, the kids go on their way and summer vacation begins.
Some teachers may revel in their freedom but, most of us, find the adjustment difficult.  It isn't so easy being the centre of so many young people's worlds one day and, the next, being in the centre of only your own.
This story is my attempt to put into words those feelings.


Summer Off


It is the day after the last day of school.
I am sitting at my desk in my classroom. Except for me, the room is empty. It is very quiet.
As I look out at the room, it seems hard to believe that, a mere 24 hours ago, this space was filled with the energy, words and body heat of my students. Yesterday, this space was a beehive of activity and excitement and anxiety as the kids shared their last social moments together before heading off on their separate ways for the summer break. Today, there is no one here who requires my counsel, my knowledge or my sense of calm to take the edge off their own amped up sensibilities. Today, I am left alone with my thoughts. My time is my own.
I tidy the papers on my desk a final time.
Before me sit the remnants of a frentic last month of activity: results from school-level and area track and field meets (I coached all of the running events), a programme from the closing awards ceremony (where I presented eight awards), the agenda from our last staff meeting (where we discussed teaching assignments for next year, extra-curricular responsibilities, school-wide academic goals and so on), my class list for next year, as well as, the classlists that contain the names of my students from this year, all neatly divided up and sorted into what are, hopefully, workable pairings/groups based on ability, social compatibility and gender, my copy of the consumable order (pencils, pens, paper, notebooks, etc.) which has already arrived, been inventoried and stored away in freshly dusted cupboards and, a sheaf of permission forms for the students to travel to the end of the year school picnic I helped to organize down at the park by the waterfront.
Most importantly, I have my final academic report cards to sign and file. That truly closes out the year. Our shared journey together ends with my assessment of their accomplishments (or, lack thereof) and, in doing so, my own assessment of how successful my year as their teacher has been. In neat, organized little boxes sit paragraphs of pronouncements on the state of each child's personal evolution and, at the end, the letters of reaction from their parents once the report cards have gone home. Meetings of concern or complaint have, by now, been held and dealt with as best suited each situation. Discussions have been held, strategies mapped out and arrangements made for those students who require extra support for the coming year (much of which is based upon data I have collected in the form of tests, checklists, observations, anecdotal records and the like, over the past term or the whole year). I have notes from students asking, privately and nervously, who their teacher will be for the coming year, will they be in the same class as their friends, what is the state of their marks. I have assuaged their anxiety as best I could but now, all of the unknowns are known and the residue of their relieved or bitter responses blanket my mind and my heart.
It always comes down to this. A school year whose foundation is built upon personal trust between teachers and students culminates in a cresendo of emotions ranging from gratitude to anger to indifference on behalf of those whose world you were center of mere days ago. The evidence of this human interaction lay in piles of papers on my dusty desk, awaiting their time to be filed and stored in a secure location. In a year or two, I will stumble upon these track and field results and wonder why I bothered to keep them but, for now, they are evidence of my purpose as an educator and my relationship with the students whose lives I am purported to have touched.
So, in the solitude of my room, I file and tidy until my desktop is bare.
The bulletin boards have been stripped during the past few weeks. The student's desks have been emptied and stacked neatly in one corner of the room, laying bare, an always surprisingly large amount of floor space. The bookshelves have been dusted, book bins sorted and wiped. Art supplies, cleaned and kept or else, discarded, depending on their state. Science equipment put back from whence it came behind cupboard doors. The floor swept. Curtains drawn. Computers powered down. Whiteboards erased. Done.
The school year always begins in an empty classroom with a teacher and a groups of young boys and girls. And, so it ends with a teacher and faint echoes.
I take one last look around the classroom that has been home to so much activity and marvel at how peaceful and serene it all appears to me now. It is so, so quiet. And empty.
Nothing left to do.
I gather up the dusty family photos that sit atop my desk all year, wipe them clean and take them home.
I close the door. Exit the building. Walk into the warm sunshine of summer. Alone. Silently. This is always how it begins. This thing called Summer.