The Last Week of School

A teacher’s perspective on these final days

Tuesday

The last few days of school are a blur. Students have taken to frenetic panic. This morning I walked past a student poking different parts of his friend’s body in preparation for the anatomy exam. Another student was curled up in a ball in the middle of the hallway at 7:15 AM. She said she was taking a break from chemistry. I stepped over her and kept walking. So goes the final days of school. Students are a force for havoc in the school, sweeping across the Commons like a tidal wave cresting before its final thunderous descent. They break through the doors of the academic wings and spill into classrooms, begging for grade-changes, imploring for help before the exam, sometimes just to say goodbye.

Goodbye. That phrase has been on my mind the least. It sounds impossible, but familiar. Goodbye is the déjà vu you experience while visiting a place you know you have never been. I’m not ready for goodbye, so I keep working.

Wednesday

The seemingly eternal stretch of May proves deceiving, and all of a sudden, I look around and realize that it is all coming to an end. This pile of grading is dwindling, and underneath is… there’s just nothing. I haven’t seen the surface of my desk in 4 months. The papers and lessons and post-its and trash has piled high, and it has mixed with the laughter and pressure and pain students bring into our room. This room is so full of memories. I stand in front and look across the landscape of what we have made here. This is where he learned to write. This is where she found her voice. This is where we stood together and bravely faced the question: “If this world is so big, where is my place in it?”

The scratches of pencils against paper fill the room as ideas spill out of imaginations and across exams. Its rhythm brings me back to the moment. I turn to my desk and begin to slowly pick through the memories, walking back and forth to the recycling bin like a pallbearer performing his solemn duty.

Thursday

Now the goodbyes are flooding in, faster than I am ready for. I am laughing and well-wishing, but the gray corners of the room are pushing past their boundaries and stretching further inward. With each successive conversation the room fades a bit more as the color slips through the doors and out into the summer air. When I woke up this morning, this was still our classroom. We were a collection of diverse branches grafted to a tree and together we awkwardly grew until we had become something unique and — dare I say — special. Now the room is a vestige, a quiet tribute to what was.

The final bell rings and, one last time, the hallway swells with laughter and excitement. This time it reverberates many times over, as if the quenched walls are soaking up this final chorus. Bursting around the corner and across the expanse is one last crescendo, and then nothing. I turn and walk into my gray and empty classroom. It looks like a skeleton, hollowed out, soulless. I think about everything that is missing. But as I search, I realize something is hovering here, something that the emptiness could not touch. Quiet, unsuspecting, but irremovable; joy. I know I am doing what I was made to do. I know that, for one fleeting moment, I played a small role in my student’s much larger stories. And I know in this moment that there is no where I would rather be.

I grab my bag, flip the lights, and close my door. Until next year.