The Long Goodbye Begins

The final countdown began Thursday evening, in an overcrowded multipurpose room, sticky and sultry from a lack of air conditioning.

Now I am cynical enough to believe that it was deliberately planned that I would be the last staff member left on the benches as my school staff was introduced to the parents right before Open House officially began.

But there I was.  Cynical though I am, I could at least appreciate being left with my thoughts, trying to process what this night, my final Open House, represented.  This moment was actually starting to get to me.  I hated it.  Thusly, a moment later, I had no immediate answer when my principal finally introduced me to come up and actually turned to me to talk.

Placing her hands over the microphone, she turned to me and whispered, “Do you want me to announce it?”

I honestly hadn’t thought about it.  My leaving was no longer news, nor should the question had come as a shock, but given how the decision to transfer schools had given me a feeling of “apartness” once I had made it, for whatever reason, my principal’s question left me immediately speechless.  I had to process it.

Finally, as if hit with smelling salts, “Sure, oh yes, of course!”

This is how I am ending fifteen years.

“Middle age is Janus-faced. As we look back on our accomplishments and our failures to achieve the things we wanted, we look ahead to the time we have left to us.”

Stanley H. Cath

Janus is the ancient Roman god of beginnings and endings,  usually portrayed as a two-faced god since he looks to the future and the past. The Romans dedicated the month of January to Janus.  For school teachers however, the transition month is not January, but June.  And on this Open House night, as I stood to acknowledge the polite clapping from the parents and students waiting for the classroom visitations to begin, my head was full of beginnings and endings.  June would be my transition month.

For lack of better way to articulate it, I had spent a couple of hours earlier in the afternoon meeting with the principal at my new school.  I was getting a walk-through, impressed with what I had seen, and admitting to him how absolutely excited and terrified about the transition ahead.  Even though we were barely into June, my head was already jumping into September, while also processing what the classroom move would entail, in addition to determining what the move back down from 6th grade to 5th grade would mean in terms of what old stuff was worth bringing back out, and what should stay packed away.

Back at my old school later on that night, walking to our classrooms, passing students and parents, the reality of what this move meant truly began to sink in.  15 years in one spot meant I had become a part of this local community, and that link was about to summarily end.  Even more of an impact was made when I began to see several of my former students, now in high school, stopping by to visit, incredulously trying to confirm what they thought they’d heard my principal saying.  Was I leaving?

I was, but it would not be on this night.  As much as it began with my mind 3 months ahead, seeing my former students dragged me back over 15 years.  In as much as I had current parents poking me for information about how their kids were doing, even more time was spent talking to my older kids, a task made easy this year by the large number of siblings of former students.  I knew their parents well, and their children really did mean something to me, for what they’ve done, but mostly now for who they are and are becoming.  Long before Katelyn arrived in my life, *these*  were my kids.

So the conversation drifted backwards and forwards along the memory trail, to their old classmates, to their current schools, to our time together and what we accomplished, for these students who had come by that night, and those whose presence in my room were marked merely by the 15 class portraits along one of my walls.

“Why are you leaving?”

“Where is this school?”

“What grade level?”

“Are you planning on taking journalism next year?”

“How is your brother?”

“Can we get a picture?”

Despite being trapped in a portable classroom which lacked air conditioning, sweating profusely, no one looked to leave, and as soon as I visited with one former student, another would walk in, and back down memory lane we tripped.

But along with these parents whose children were once *mine*, they still had siblings in the pipeline towards the upper grades.  And I wouldn’t have these kids.  As much as I didn’t want to admit it, an overwhelming sense of melancholy started to settle in.

Finally, the evening came to its end, and the parents of one former student walked me out of my classroom, and down the steps.  We talked about what this change meant for me, how much my time with their middle daughter meant for them, and how much they had wanted me to be the teacher for their youngest daughter.

“She was very unhappy when she heard you were leaving…”

“No, I wasn’t!” the little girl insisted.

Her eyes betrayed her.  When she looked up at me, they were red and filled with tears.

I think that is going to happen to me at some point in this process too…

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