For months, I’ve been looking forward to the end of the school year. It’s been a rough year and I’ve been tired and burnt out. Most of the problems – eviction, loss of friends, financial difficulty – did not originate at school, but they certainly took their toll on my school performance. I’ve been tired and a little short tempered in situations that used to make me laugh. Instead of calm, collected Ms. Dooley, the kids have seen another side of me – a side that prompted one student, when playing a vocabulary game, to answer the question “Do teachers have feelings?” with “Yeah, they feel tired!”
So the end of the school year has been shimmering in the distance as a very good thing, something I couldn’t wait to reach. The end of the school year signaled freedom from my two daily hours of commute time and the sore feet, dehydration, and stress headaches that come from teaching all day with no planning, lunch, or other down time. I’ve been rushing headlong toward the end of the school year for months, unwilling to look back.
Today is when it hit. Today I realized something awful.
I will, in all likelihood, never see these children again.
I will never again see James, who plays the air drums and answers the daily question “How are you?” with “Not much.” I will never see Dana, who speaks of herself in the third person and writes knock knock jokes on the board in her spare time. After Wednesday, I won’t get to spend any more mornings scrubbing purple marker chicken pox off Eliza, who keeps hoping I’ll fall for it and send her home early. I won’t get to talk about High School Musical with Leah or sign about horses in the hallways with Simon. Garret won’t get to apologize in advance before uttering curse words about me anymore. Robert won’t start the morning by shouting, “Dooley! Shut up!” and then kissing me on the cheek. Brett won’t look me in the eye and say, “No, I don’t have gum! I swear!” thirty seconds before blowing a bubble.
My life is about to get boring. Or at least a whole lot more boring than it is right now.
I thought that was what I wanted.
I’ve decided to move home because I want to live closer to my family and because something about living in West Virginia just feels right, in a way that living in other states never has. I know the social rules in West Virginia. I know when to wave back and when to look the other way. I know how to drive on the back roads. I know the lingo. Other states are nice and I’m glad I’ve lived in a few of them, but the Mountain State is home and I’ll be glad to return to it.
Only there are eight extraordinary people here I’m going to miss once I’ve gone away. And I know, although there will be other children in my life, that there is no one, anywhere, that will take the place of these eight unique souls.
God. Why didn’t I spend more time teaching them to write so we could stay in touch?