I have this habit, whenever I send my students out to break, of telling my kids to make sure to come back safe. It’s really only a habit, since I’m trying to sound profound for some reason. I can usually count on each and every student to be in their seats come the beginning of January when classes resume. Sometimes though, this isn’t the case.
When I return to school tomorrow, I will be one student short.
C. had already shown herself to be a natural student leader, with her humor always just under the surface, but also with a seriousness about her when it came time to get down to the business of book learning. She isn’t going to be in my classroom any more. At my staff’s holiday gathering, I learned that C.’s family had moved out of the district. So, in a year in which I have been blessed with a not-so-normal amount of students (32 is our contracted maximum, but I’ve only had 26, at most, this year.), I will be back to 25 students.
I will miss having her in my class, even if it had only been for what turned out to be 3 months. I wish her well and the best, since she made nothing but good impressions upon me during her time in the class. It is a facet of being a teacher that sometimes kids leave in the middle of the school year.
Sometimes they leave, and move on. Sometimes they leave and don’t move on.
Last week, as the winter break began across the area, this went down locally.
Coming as it did, a week after the schools shootings in Newtown, CT., the manner of these two boys’ death seemed more *routine*, but not less tragic.
2 less youngsters in the world. 1 less student in each of two classrooms in an elementary school and middle school. These boys were local products, students during my wife’s time as their school principal. It is this loss that’s made it personal. For a teaching colleague who is also a family friend, the pain of losing a student who looped for two years. For another teaching colleague, also a family friend, who will return to her own 5th grade classroom tomorrow short a student when she calls roll. It would be so much easier if her student had left her class simply because his family moved, much like C.’s family did. Because it didn’t, I can’t even begin to imagine what that will feel like.
As I finally catch up on grade work that I managed to avoid through most of the winter break, I was reminded every so often about how C.’s absence would affect the makeup of the classroom going forward for the remainder of the year. At one point, I joked to the wife: “There goes my test scores!”. Still, her new teacher will be ecstatic to have her.
On the other hand, what will the hole will be like in my colleague’s classroom? I feel terrible that I am actually relieved, probably because I wonder if I could find the right thing to both say and do, when, and if, any discussion of the youngster comes up. Sadly, I don’t know if I can. I wonder if I could find words, if any, to properly console the students in the class to help them get through the loss of a classmate, and quite likely for a number of them, a friend. This is a teacher’s role that, unfortunately, doesn’t get dealt with in a credentialing class. I’d probably come up short.
Maybe this is where I need to sit down with O., when things settle down, and ask her what she did. This would be an impromptu in-service. Or, if I didn’t, is there some place a teacher can go and ask? It’s a reminder to me that my role might sometimes ask me to move beyond simply delivering instruction.
The wife, who attended the funeral, and who played the unofficial role of community leader, because of the years she spent there as these boys’ school principal, already told me how hard it was to get through a family visit and the subsequent funeral. We’ve talked about it at length ourselves, given how it’s brought her back to the school families she served for so long, but in a completely unenviable way.
Finally, driving home in the late afternoon on New Year’s Day, we near the intersection where the accident occurred. Kate announces to the wife that we saw the crash site, and then our resident parrot recites the account of the accident that I had told her about when I had driven by the accident site and its resultant street side memorial the previous week. The wife asks to see it.
When I finally turn up the street, I struggle to find the exact location. Everything had been taken away. In the late afternoon sunlight, there was nothing but empty street on either side of us.
Meanwhile, across the country, in Connecticut, the community in and around Sandy Hook Elementary are dealing with their own set of memorials:
“We knew the memorials can’t stand forever,” she said. “And after being weathered… I mean, we had bad rain, we had a storm, we had wind, we had snow. So I knew the time was going to come where we really had to move the memorials. Not only because the tributes themselves start to look unkempt and start to communicate a message that wasn’t part of the honoring that the donor intended; it also signifies a moving on, a readiness for the community to go to that next step.”
The end of winter break is, in and of itself, a “next” step. So, tomorrow morning, I will inform my class about C. moving on. But honestly, my thoughts will undoubtedly be thinking about another 5th grader, and another “next” step several miles away.