Sunday, March 29, 2015
Anyone walking into the classroom would have seen chaos. It was late in the school day. Thirty-one fifth graders had, with varying degrees of success, held themselves together and learned as much as they could in the previous hours. They were in homeroom, and relaxed, transitioning into their favorite time of day: read aloud. The burst of noise and energy made conversation impossible, and I didn't try. I knew they'd settle themselves quickly without my intervention. Billy is about to take Old Dan and Little Ann on their first coon hunt and everyone wants to know what will happen next.
Some kids were settled and waiting expectantly. Others impatiently urged classmates to sit down and listen. Still others made a beeline to the back of the room to get a copy of the book to follow along in. There was a last minute scramble for bathroom passes and some giggling in the back of the room I pretended not to notice. And then finally the room began to still.
I sat in front, my worn copy of Where the Red Fern Grows on my lap, waiting and watching. Smiling. Absorbing. Thinking: this is my last class, my last spring with kids I love. These are our last days together. They are so silly and happy and safe - a room full of golden retriever puppies - my goldens in a space I've created.
I marveled at how quickly things can change.
We returned to the financial guy a couple of weeks ago. Since the first visit I'd become aware that one more year beyond this one felt like one year too many. I was - I am - tired to the bone. The magical moments with kids, my glorious classroom, and laughter with colleagues are no longer enough to compensate for the drain of everything else. Despite my intention to kick back and just enjoy the good parts in the time I had left, I've discovered I can't do this job with half a heart, or half my attention.
Teaching takes everything you have to give and demands more. Firm boundaries do nothing to still the questioning voices. Even without the constant seismic activity of new standards and new tests and new evaluations, simply being enough for the young lives whose fifth grade year I hold the reins to is increasingly impossible. I heard myself describe being a teacher as like being stuck inside a car in a wrecking yard that's being crushed from all sides until it's nothing but a compact cube of scrap metal.
It is time to go.
And thankfully, I can. Things will be a bit tighter, but we'll still be able to travel. Walt will continue to teach for a few more years, happy in ways I envy. I'll have to sub, but right now that feels like a gift. A chance to see these kids again, and to be the grandma instead of the mom.
Every day now is a last day for something, sometimes many things. I look at my classroom and my things through different eyes. As much as I love the room I teach in this year with it's newness and open space and radiant light, I will only mind a little bit giving it to someone else. I think about who will get my stuff, and what I can do to set things up for whoever inherits my spot. I clean out files. I breathe in hugs a bit more deeply, look into faces a little more closely, love like there is no tomorrow.
I was just pulling myself back into the present reality of thirty-one mostly quiet faces waiting expectantly for me to open the book, when one of my girls said, "Mrs. Shucka, look! A bald eagle." Before I'd decided she was telling the truth and not playing one of her many tricks, half the class was at the windows. By the time I got to a window, the rest of the class was crowded around, craning to see.
And there he was. Soaring so closely we could see the gold of his beak and talons. He floated toward us until we could see the definition of his talons and the texture of his wing feathers, and then he disappeared past the last window, leaving us all buzzing with excitement. When the room had settled enough for me to speak, I told the story - how had I not told this to them before? - of my childhood experience with bald eagles. The imminent extinction. My belief that I would never get to see one because they would all be gone before I had the chance. And then the miracle of their comeback. The wonder that bald eagles are an every-day sight for these kids. For me.
In a little more than ten weeks, I will begin a new life. In many ways this new life mirrors the story of the bald eagle. As dramatic as it sounds, extinction was a very real possibility for me, too. And yet here I am, thriving, as alive as is possible. Moving forward into a future as wide as the blue sky holding the eagle who guides me forward.