Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Secret Teacher: I Loved my Last Class so much, it's Hard to Let Them Go

Collection of thank you cards

I’ve been teaching year 2 for a few years now, and I’m getting better. Feedback from book scrutinies is generally positive, lesson observations are improving, and I finally know what I’m talking about when responding to parents. My relationship with my class is strong. I like who I am with them, and they seem to be responding well to me.
But I miss last year’s class. From the beginning I knew they were different and would be hard to let go. Things seemed to sing with them – the parents were supportive, my headteacher trusted me and I hit the ground running. Reading books had a system, homework went out on time and standards were high from the get-go. It felt manageable, and I adored them. Of course, you always feel that way about your class, but I fell in love and, like anyone in love, an ending seemed impossible. It came, though, in July.
I’m still young enough and vain enough that I want to be paramount to each child in my care. Narcissistic it may be, but one of the benefits of teaching year 2 is that they love you and they tell you that, which makes all the hours of painstaking planning, resourcing and assessing worthwhile. I keep every card, note and present; I still have a postcard from one of last year’s boys on my desk. It says: “You will always be my fravourit”.
Our last class assembly predictably reduced me to tears, but it even affected Frank, who was usually a stalwart boy. “I don’t want to leave you,” he cried. I didn’t want him to leave me either. The assembly was supposed to end with the class cheering: “Next year we’ll be in year 3!” But they spontaneously booed and refused to cheer. “If we cheered that would mean we were happy,” one girl explained. “And we’re not.”
I felt it too – I wasn’t happy. But how could I share my feelings? You can’t say “I love you”, though you have spent 10 months with the class, learning, laughing, growing and changing, knowing everything about each child – their likes, dislikes, hopes, fears and wishes. And you can’t say: “I wish you didn’t have to go” because it’s part of the deal. You borrow them for a time, during which your life revolves around them, and then you let them go.
So I kept quiet. When the day finally came for me to say goodbye, I mostly managed to keep it together. The parents wrote a speech for me, which I sobbed my way through (I did say “mostly”). I wrote a story about losing something you love, which my teaching assistant illustrated, and printed each child a copy to keep forever – or maybe just to put into a drawer and forget about.
The first few weeks of September I saw one or more of them every day, usually in the playground. A particular favourite of mine, Priti, jealously guarded me, holding both my hands so my new class were left out. When others protested, she said: “She’s still my teacher, not yours”. A parent confided in me that their daughter missed my “warmth”. I made the right noises – she’ll love it, soon she’ll forget about year 2, she’ll get on so well with her new teacher – but really I wanted to say: “I’m finding this hard, too.”
I know it’s selfish, but part of me (the part you don’t talk about as a professional) was glad they were finding the transition hard. For every teacher who loves their class, you want them to be happy, but you also want them to remember you. And as the weeks pass and the memories fade, you both move on. Besides, those little ones you adored grow up so quickly that the same children you miss no longer exist. I miss Daniel’s excited stutter, but he’s grown out of it now. I miss reading Allan Ahlberg with Hana, but she’s got into Beast Quest. Luke is suddenly almost as tall as me, but when he was with me he’d hold my hand at playtime. Older, taller, more scratches, fewer milk teeth, shorter haircuts and longer legs – they are different and they are strangers. It’s like having your heart broken 30 times at the same time every year.
It will be impossible for the children to carry very much of me with them because they are too young. Maybe they will remember a song I taught them, a story I read, or (upsettingly) a time I told them off. Maybe they won’t remember me at all.
I plan to have a long teaching career, and will doubtless get used to this feeling. There will be other children I love and lose in the same way I loved and lost them, and it will hurt less each time. I already love my new class, but I know more now, and I anticipate the end even as I enjoy the beginning. They won’t, of course; children have the blissful ability to see nothing beyond the present. But the tragedy of being the teacher is that we know better. We will love them, we will lose them, and eventually, as unfathomable as it seems, we will no longer mind.

No comments:

Post a Comment