The second to the last day of school, it started. For weeks, we’d been telling our 8th graders what was coming, how they’d become reflective about their middle school experience and possibly begin panicking about high school. They, naturally, balked at it all. They were powerful, they were 8th graders.
I was standing with my back to the door when a pair of arms engulfed me and a booming voice announced
I love you Mrs. Stone. Can I stay here forever?
I did my now famous (and frequently copied) “I’m burning, let me go!” routine, and he let go laughingly. The day was filled with it all. Especially at the recognition ceremony rehearsal that afternoon. Looking out into the empty auditorium, a few of them actually began to cry.
Middle school is the one age group most teachers avoid. Its full of immaturity on a hormonally induced scale, icy indifference to learning that can, sometimes be almost impossible to melt away, and drama that could, if we took the time to write it all down, create really amazing reality shows. I love it. Looking back to the beginning of the year while they’re still in goofy 7th grade angst mode, wondering how that group of teachers even managed to contain the energy of it all, we get to look at our collective finished work and say, yes, they will be fine. They can do high school without killing themselves. (well, the majority of them)
Meanwhile, the same thing was happening with the high school seniors… making the long trek to the middle school wing, looking for me, Mrs. R., Mr. I…
We came to thank you for pushing us, even after we left.
It’s what we do, push. Hugs, tears, and whispers of encouragement as this bunch heads out into the world.
I have a policy of never saying goodbye as the finality of that word came to haunt me once in my life. I had a coworker many years ago, that I was both teasing and lifting up spiritually. Her brother had been killed in a car accident and she was leaving that afternoon to say her final goodbyes. After making jokes about hair dos and black dresses, she gave me a hug, thanked me for the support and said “goodbye”. I, as an echo, said goodbye back to her. I never spoke to her again. That following Monday, I took the day off to run an errand and came by the school at the end of the day to pick up some things. I knew something was wrong when I came in the door.”I was going to call you.” the principal began. “Mrs. P collapsed and died in her classroom this morning.” She had a bad heart and it simply gave out on her, in front of her 8th grade math class.
I’ve never said “goodbye” to anyone since.
So, to the class of 2020, it’s never good bye. We already know you’re going to hovering outside my door first day of school and I’ll have to shoo you away to class for at least a month after that. I know I’ll have emails from the graduates, asking for advice, telling me how much they love their science course (ok, that’s my dream scenario) or just to have me remind them they can do it.
So, see you later, alligators… it’s been a blast.