How it feels to be a teacher on the last day of the school year

It’s 6:00AM on the last day of the school year, and I’m tired. The sun is already up; the morning breeze blows through the window; the coffee is hot and ready; my lunch waits, already packed, in the fridge; my school bag sits, where it always sits, on the stool next to the stairs in the kitchen. In almost every way, today looks and feels like the very first day of the school year nine months ago…save one difference. The shiny optimism, the excitement and readiness, the eagerness to set off and do the job has mostly faded into the recesses of September’s and October’s memories, replaced with a weariness that will carry me into June with relief.

thoughtI am tired. Nine months of performing in front of 100 teenagers has made me tired. Nine months of the daily struggle to be more entertaining than Youtube has made me tired. Nine months of trying to be as smart as Google has made me tired. Nine months of prying kids from their screens has made me tired. Nine months of repeating myself multiple times a day has made me tired. Nine months of lesson planning, grading papers, and answering the never-ending stream of emails has made me tired. Nine months of playing teacher, parent, therapist, social worker, and life coach to those students who like school the least, but need the structure and guidance and community of school the most, has thoroughly exhausted me.

The truth is this, I did not become a teacher because of summer vacations. But at the end of the school year, I often find myself thinking I could not stay a teacher without them.

raceDon’t mistake me. I love my job, and I’m sure if needed, I could stretch myself another day, another week, another month. The school year is a marathon, not a sprint, and as someone who has run a marathon, I know a thing or two about tiring out, hitting the wall, and then pushing past it to the finish line. And despite the exhaustion, the finish line does, eventually, arrive. So it is with the school year as well. And while some of my students have crossed it in stride, faces smiling and arms thrown wide in triumph, others have been dragged and carried kicking and screaming, and it has made me tired.

As always, there is a bittersweetness to the end of the year: the graduating seniors who have walked the halls for the last time; the retiring colleagues off to the next phase of life’s adventure; the kids who I will think about all summer because I know what their home life looks like, and I will constantly wonder whether they’re safe and happy.

I need summer, and an empty classroom, and space from my students, and they need space from school. Yet, I can’t turn off the worry for my kids. I will worry about those I know who are facing personal struggles and identity crises, and relied on the steady support of friends, teachers, and guidance counselors to get them through their days. I will worry about those who just got their driver’s licenses and are already talking about all the places they’re going to race off to. I will worry each time the news mentions that teens were involved in an “incident” that it will be someone I have taught or will teach.

whenWe have done so much more than curriculum this year, and I believe my students are not only smarter, but stronger, better people. I have sat with some of them as they’ve cried over deaths, divorces, and first heartaches. I’ve cried with others in joy, in fear, and in loss. We’ve celebrated victory and unexpected success. We’ve dealt with drama and the darker side of the human experience. This was my eighth year teaching and I still don’t know how to respond when, during a lockdown drill in response to another school shooting, a student says he’d feel safe in my classroom because he knows I’d take care of the class, but he doesn’t want me to have to die for them either. We’ve talked about these big issues a lot this year. I’ve watched my students grow up in the process.

By August I’ll be ready to come back to my classroom, full of new ideas and reenergized to tackle another school year. Parents, we can empathize together then, for the feeling of excitement and relief you get when the back to school displays go up in Target, is the same feeling of excitement and relief I get when the summer barbecue and patio furniture come out. I am honored that you trust your kids to me nine months of the year. Hopefully you find this summer they’re a little wiser, a little more curious. If not, send them back in three months, and I’ll start again!

classroomThis year I’ve been sworn at, yelled at, and called more names than I’d care to repeat. My students have disappointed me, and I’m sure I’ve let them down a time or two as well. I’ve also been thanked, hugged, praised, and astonished by the questions and insights of the young adults in my classes. My students have amazed me, and I’m sure I’ve surprised them at least a handful of times. Today as they leave the classroom one last time, I’ll stand at the door where I have everyday and wish them a good summer instead of a good day. And most will smile and return the sentiment, and some will tear up, and some will scowl, and one might even flip me the bird. The truth is, they’re tired too.

But the thing about crossing the finish line of a marathon, is there is no sweeter kind of exhaustion.

Cheers!
Kate

Whiteboard doodles part of my daily cartoon series for freshman English 2017-2018.

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