“I want to go there!”
The leaves started to blow. The tree house started to spin. It spun faster and faster.
Then everything was still.
–pretty much every Magic Tree House book
We were nearing the close of our tenth chapter book–our last chapter book–and everyone knew the rhythm of these words. There had been some variation of them as Jack and Annie finished each of their adventures and returned home. As I read the words on the page, their voices recited the words with me, even though the book was turned away from them. And if any of them noticed the way my voice cracked, they didn’t mention it.
Not two hours earlier I was given my letter stating that I didn’t have a job for next year. Finishing our chapter book, it struck me that this was one of those “this is the last time”s.
Maybe there will be a next time.
Maybe there won’t be.
In the next few days my stress and anxiety go into overdrive. I run a fever. I’m sick to my stomach. I spend a lot of time crying or on the verge of tears. I swallow my pride and ask any and all friends to let me know if they know of job openings…because I lost my job.
I can cycle through the five stages of grief in as many minutes, only to wind up at the beginning again.
I pack boxes. And more boxes. I fill my car to capacity, sometimes twice in one day. The deadline to have everything out is looming, and time isn’t on my side.
Nothing seems to be on my side these days.
Some of my girls enter the room, planting stickers on my shirt. Elsa. Olaf. The castle that I presume is from Frozen.
Today is the last day, and they are giving me stickers to remember them by. To show their love. (Days later, the stickers are off my clothes and still in the cupholder in my car.)
We go through our last Morning Meeting. Our greeting is “Happy last day of school!” as we sit around a bare classroom. The calendar, the ABCs, the hundreds chart are at home. The charts we made as a class have already been divided up among the kids. There’s nothing left but cold cinderblock walls.
Ready for the next occupant of the classroom.
The day drags and flies by. We finish the year with the game I’ve been promising them all year that we would play on the last day of school–guess how old the teacher is. Guesses range from zero (no, really) to four billion. At the end I finally reveal my age, along with an admonishment not to tell next year’s kids…and then I remember. And keep my mouth shut.
It’s better if they find out next year, while they’re focused on new teachers and who will be in their new class.
I pass out report cards and tell them it’s time to say goodbye to each other. They can hug, high five, or shake hands. I watch as they mill around the room, surprised that one of the first kids to come over to hug me is the one kid I least expected. He’s one of “those” kids, and while I love him, he’s scampered away from goodbye hugs for most of the year.
Today is different.
After a few minutes, I pull a “magic trick” and turn them into students in the next grade. They’re still at an age where they kinda believe me. Those who don’t believe me go along with it anyway, their own last gift to me.
I’ve held it together in front of them, more or less, and then it’s dismissal time…and I break down in tears in front of all of them. I’m sad, depressed, mortified, and have a few dozen eyeballs on me. I try to pull it together as they all leave for the last time.
The last time.
In the hallway I run into several former students who stop for a hug. Outside one former student is hanging out of the open car window, mournful that she didn’t tell me goodbye. I alternate between telling her to have a good summer and to sit down and buckle up.
Even after they leave, there are still too many things to do. The end of year paperwork. More packing. Scrounging up more boxes. Two faculty meetings where we are berated for low test scores. The hits keep coming; the clock keeps running out of time.
It’s the eleventh hour, and family and friends step in and help with the packing and moving process. It’s a good thing, because I’m at the stage where I’m just spinning around the classroom wondering how on earth it is possible that there is still so much to be boxed up. Having all of those books and manipulatives is great for teaching until it’s time to pack it all up.
I’m exhausted, physically and mentally. I’m trying to find a new job, and all of my early leads have proven to be dead ends. And I’m still not done packing.
It’s done. It’s all packed up. When if I unpack it again, it’s going to be a brand new adventure–there are at least ten boxes that could best be classified as “miscellaneous,” and there’s no telling who put what in which box.
At this point, I don’t really care. I should, but I don’t.
I want out of that toxic environment. It’s time to move on.
I come back for the last time, to pick up the last item that was too big to stuff in my overloaded car before. My keys have already been turned in.
I put the key in the ignition and drive away.
And finally, everything is still. Absolutely still.