A Mountain I'm Willing To Die On: A Love Letter to My Graduating Students

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

I am just ending my least favorite day of the whole year, eighth grade graduation day. Because they graduated tonight, they weren't at school today, so today was my first day at school without them.

And it was awful.

It was quiet, it was lonely. It was too calm, it was too peaceful. I hated it.

Let me first day that I do dearly love my sixth and seventh grade students, and my (thousands of) tears over the loss of my eighth grade does in no way mean I don't love my other students, too.

But today is about my eighth grade.

I've written about these kids many, many, many times before, and I won't rehash it all here. If you know me, you know how much I love them, and if you don't know me, then you're probably not reading this blog. Haha.

I stood outside my door this morning, knowing no one was coming to homeroom, but hoping maybe I'd woken up in some alternate reality and my babies would come down the hall like they have every other day for two years. Of course, they didn't.

So I sat at my desk, holding my coffee, staring out into the virtual wasteland that is a classroom without students. Without students, I am just a person in a room.

Luckily, I did have the sixth and seventh grades today, but I teach those grades in the morning, so starting at about 11:23 (um, actually, exactly 11:23), I was no longer someone's "eighth grade Language Arts teacher" but someone's "former eighth grade Language Arts teacher." SOB.

I lived through the day, then went home around 3:30, knowing I had to be back at school around 6:20 in order to prepare for Mass and graduation at 7. Before I left my house, I packed three tissues. I grossly underestimated the number of tissues I'd need.

I started tearing up when my kids started showing up. (That's a lie -- I started crying on the bus back from our class trip to D.C. and haven't really stopped.) Remember, I hadn't seen them today, so I was seeing them for the first time tonight. We took some pictures with our priest and principal, and then it was time to line up for the processional.

I teared up as my student read the first reading. As they read the petitions. As they took up the gifts. But I really started crying when my student who is the valedictorian read her speech. I had to introduce her, and I'm not really sure how I made it through, but I did. Of course, I continued crying through the reception, just looking at my kids, together for the last time. I cried as I talked to their parents, as I talked to them, as I just stood there by myself.

The thing is -- I cry so much because I will miss them SO MUCH. They have been my homeroom for two years. For two years those are the faces I've seen every morning I've gone to school. For two years I've asked them if they wanted lunch every day. For two years those are the faces who've told me their stories and needed me to bail them out of whatever bizarre fix they'd found themselves in. Today, no one needed my help.

My friend Summer, who also teaches at Fatima, told me tonight that if you do a good job, then they're ready to move on without you. And she's right. They were believed to be a tough class, and in some ways, they were. But it's much, much tougher to be without them. My favorite thing about them is that each one of them is a misfit, but where they fit is together. As I've said before, they are a ragtag group of weirdos, but if there's anyone I should be with, it's a ragtag group of weirdos.

I realized the other day that it's okay to cry and it's okay that my heart hurts so much. It hit me that my students are really all I have. I have no husband, no children. My students are my world. I live and die by what is happening with them on a daily basis. The weird thing about love is that if your heart is hurting so much it's because you loved much. And I really do love these kids much. I had a moment with my friend Jessica, the kindergarten teacher, yesterday, during the eighth grade's last minutes at school. I was taking the eighth grade downstairs, while Jess was taking the kindergarteners upstairs. I said something like, "Oh excuse us!" And Jess sweetly said, "It's okay! My babies are just coming through!" And I said, "So are mine."

Driving home tonight was the loneliest ride of my life, I think. I had said goodbye to my precious children, and I was going home to be all by myself, with no one to talk to or share my memories with. As I started my car, it hit me that only two things would help. The first: I hit the "CD" button on my car, remembering what I had most recently put in the player. As the first notes of Bohemian Rhapsody started, I turned it up LOUD and sang (and cried) it out on my way home. My babies love this song, and, weirdly, last year's class did, too. (Incidentally, I learned that I live about 1.5 Bohemian Rhapsodys away from Fatima, which is what I plan on telling people from now on when they ask how far I live from where I work. I live 1.5 Bohemian Rhapsodys far.) The second thing: I'll watch The Sound of Music tonight. It's the only thing that helps when I'm sad, happy, sadhappy, or whatever weird mix of emotions I can't put a name to, like tonight.

The thing is, I teach English, and I love words, but I don't have the words to convey what's in my heart about these kids. I could write and rewrite all day long, and it would never be enough. They come from all backgrounds, and each have struggles, some much harder than I can even imagine. I have no fantasies that they'll remember everything I taught them, but I hope they remember that I loved them fiercely, and I loved them fully. I didn't always do the perfect thing with them, but defending them was a mountain I was willing to die on.

Will be forever.

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