When I close the door of my classroom on the last day of school, it always feels like a surreal experience. How can this school year be ending? Didn’t I just meet these little students? But when I look back at their school pictures, taken a month or so after school started in August, I realize that the little children pictured are not the same children who are leaving my classroom for summer break and then on to their next year of school.
In August, everything is new and the children are a bit unsure. They don’t know each other well (with the exception of a few who have attended the same pre-school) and they are reluctant to say goodbye to their parents. In June, they run into the classroom and barely give a quick kiss goodbye. They are busy arranging play dates and confirming recess games of “family.” In fact, they have become a family.
In August we adorn a small bulletin board with photos and stories of families so we can all get to know each other. There is reassurance in looking at photos of their families throughout the day and parents often stop to read about our classroom families. As the year progresses, we actually become a classroom family that includes the children, myself, and my classroom aide, the parents, and siblings. The children care about each other and take care of each other. One of the prized classroom jobs is to be the First Aid helper, the student who takes injured classmates to the school office to get ice packs and the cure-all Band-Aid. They relish giving comfort to each other.
In the fall, we learn so much about our classroom family through the celebrations (Halloween costumes can tell a lot about a personality), sharing stories of family plans for holidays, and bringing some of those stories and photos in for class sharing. As we approach the winter holidays, we enjoy the magic of the season, learn songs together, and create special gifts for our families. The three weeks of break fly by and when we come back to our classroom in the New Year, everyone seems so much bigger. The children are more mature, too, and ready to tackle new learning.
Throughout the winter the children steadily make progress, learning so much, and becoming independent, contributing members of our classroom community. They take on responsibilities, such as setting up the computers, making sure we have our needed supplies, and contributing special objects for our class Council basket. They help each other with morning work and take pride in explaining work to students who need help.
As spring enters, the children are acting like siblings, each with their own role in our classroom family. They support and encourage each other as their learning expands. They read together, sprawled on the carpet, relaxing as if at home. This is, in fact, a home for them, many spending more of their “awake” hours at school than in their own homes. We watch with pride as they mature and demonstrate such growth, sometimes more than we even imagined they would gain.
Then summer approaches and we can feel it in the air as the children begin to anticipate the change. They get a little rambunctious and though they know the rules, they begin to test them to see how much they can take control of. We keep the momentum going and encourage the children by challenging them with new expectations of where they will begin next fall.
The end of the year is at once the peak of all we have worked so hard to achieve during the school year and anticlimactic. It is a tremendous amount of work to pack up the entire classroom for summer cleaning. The floors will be cleaned and waxed, the windows cleaned and dusted and the carpets cleaned. We pack together, with much appreciated help from parents, but involve the children so they can process the change about to take place and get closure on this important year.
As the last days come, we celebrate together, acknowledging all that the children have learned and the family we have become and cherish. We feel the excitement of summer approaching, but there is a little melancholy there, too. Although the relationships and bonds we have formed will remain, the children and families will move on to their new classroom to create a new family. I too, will have a new family of my own arriving in August.
As I close the door of my classroom on the last day of school, my pride and happiness is tempered with a touch of sadness. It takes a week of summer to unwind and shake the feeling and to remember who I am, besides me, the teacher. I enjoy the time to relax, and then, before I know it, that anticipation returns and the excitement of starting another school year with new students stirs my imagination.