Friday, June 25, 2010

snapshots of the last day

The last day of school, much like the first, is always a whirlwind. The kids arrived in a mixture of their best clothes, and outfits that said: I'm headed to the pool as soon as I finish with this school nonsense. We were all excited, giddy, and a bit sad. There is always little structure since the day ends before lunch, and classrooms stay busy cleaning tables, reading books, or making last minute memory books of the year. Anything to occupy everyone for a few hours.

Watching the graduating fifth graders is always a highlight of the day. Most come fully outfitted in their very best- whether it is a new dress, an old flower-girl dress, or navy pants with a black blazer. They all take the promotion ceremony very seriously, and walk through the hallways when they arrive that morning as though they are already 10 years older than they were yesterday.

One of my jumpers arrived in a full tuxedo.

I tried to talk to all my former students and parents. Since our school is so transient only 10 of my former first graders from that year finished 5th grade at the think-tank. A few days earlier I'd given them each a letter with a set of pictures of them from first grade. It had been amazing to watch them pour over snapshots of their former selves, giggling about how silly we'd been in first grade- "why am I making that crazy face?" their embarrassed fifth grade self grimaced. One boy looked at me and said, quite seriously, "You know, I've changed a lot since then. I've become a better learner."

In talking to his teachers I learned that was true. In first grade he hadn't quite taken on the attitude that school is important, but somewhere along the way he managed to figure it out. I've watched this change in a lot of children, but I've never had anyone mention they realize it before. I wonder how many kids can recognize their growth.

Back in the first grade and kindergarten classrooms there the flurry of end-of-the-year activity. The story-teller saw me walk by his room and popped his head out to say hello. "Mrs. Lipstick," he moaned, "I think I'm gonna miss you! You were my three-year teacher!"

What will I do without him?? It has been 3 years of receiving his whispered commentary throughout the day. From his first year of kindergarten when his comments all pertained to being abducted by aliens the night before, to this year in first grade when he followed me around the classroom asking questions about whatever nonfiction book he was reading.

The worst part of the day was loading Amazing onto her bus. As her wheelchair rose into the air on the power-lift we watched her sad eyes scan the crowd for her friends. She's made so many incredible friends this year, and was with a group of girls who showed maturity beyond their 5 years in how they adapted their play to include Amazing, without being condescending or too motherly. Their play was somehow completely natural without any adult intervention. Watching Amazing's face as the bus doors closed I could tell she knew how wonderful her group of friends had been. I think we all hope that her friends at her new school are equally wonderful and inclusive.
The bus would not let anyone ride with her for liability reasons, so we watched it pull away- small, strong Amazing on a full sized bus all by herself, carrying no one but her and the driver. Almost a metaphor for Amazing's life- her, by herself, strong and brave, while those around her worry about little things, wishing they could do more.
I lost it when the almost-empty bus pulled away. She is a child you get to teach once in a lifetime. I am going to truly miss her.

Once the halls were empty an uneasiness fell over our school. They were announcing our new principal that afternoon and we all stood around, waiting and wondering. We compared notes trying to predict who it would be- did we think it would be our fabulous assistant principal, or someone new? What had been overheard in the office? Did anyone read anything from the substitute Principal's face? What were the principals in other schools saying?

We sat, almost unable to eat, waiting for the future of the think-tank to be decided. Finally, we slowly walked to the library, knowing that once we were there we would know- no words would need to be said- there would be a stranger in the room, or there wouldn't be.

I'll write more about this later- I have so much to say about school leadership. But I will say that in the end we all cried for joy and felt ourselves truly relax for the first time since our principal announced her retirement. The new principal is our AP- the think-tank will stay close to the same, if not get better.

And now it's summer. A week later I'm slowly sipping my coffee, reading for fun, telling myself to get to work on my to-do list. It's funny how when the stress of the school year comes to a screeching halt I feel utterly useless and lost. It will take a week or so to become comfortable in the slower paced lifestyle.

Not that I'm complaining :)


Suzanne G. said...

I've not read your blog for a long time and it seems like I've missed the record of an "Amazing" year. I'm going to go back and read earlier posts. It's good to be back and read you again. Have a great summer.

Not Quite Grown Up... said...

Congratulations on getting your AP as principal. I've realized this year the value of having a strong principal who shares your vision. It is so important, and apparently not very common. I am happy for you and your school that you will get that. Enjoy the new principal (and your summer vacation!)

Also, I'm looking forward to your post on school leadership. Over the course of this past school year, I have amassed a lot of thoughts as well. In my (few years of ) experience, the quality of the leader can change everything - for the better or the worse.