The last day of school started with a a phone call from Magical's family- he refused to come to school. And frankly, that was not acceptable seeing that it was my last day with Magical after two years. Absolutely not going to happen. So my aide and I ran down to his house to bring him to school. (He lives walking distance from our school). The three of us had a great walk back to school listening to him talk about how tomorrow he is absolutely NOT coming to school no matter what anyone says. Sure, we nodded in agreement. No problem. We won't be there either.
Usually our last day of school is two hours long- not even a full half day. This year because we did not get enough snow days and they changed our last day of school we had a full day. I think I was the only teacher in our district that felt that the day was actually too short.
We played our favorite games, painted the packing boxes so that they'd be beautiful (best last day of school activity ever), joined another class for water balloon games, watched some readers' theater, finished our scrap books, sang our favorite songs, read our favorite books, had one last long free play time in the dramatic play center (everyone's favorite), and most importantly had one last dance party. We played I've Got a Feeling on repeat and watched as Magical, Rock Star and the others danced their hearts out in their own special ways. The dancing was good for me. It kept me from crying.
I bit my lip so many times trying to hold it together. This year, this classroom, these kids have all been pure magic. I don't think I'll ever have another year like this. The class was amazing. They were all such good friends. They had this family-like connection that even us as teachers couldn't quite understand. They had their own jokes and their own understandings for what it was like to be them. The empathy they felt for one another came from an understanding of what it is like to not be able to communicate like you want to, not be able to access equipment and materials like you want to, and to just be a little different than the other kids. When Rock Star made sure everyone waited for our friend in a wheel chair, when they told one another "good job", "smart thinking", "Wow, I like your picture", or helped each other get crayons, count the napkins for snack, or reminded someone that water in the sink was for hand washing and not for playing- their interactions with each other were more powerful than when we interfered as teachers.
Watching them hug each other on the last day was both magical and so, so hard.
On the last day of school the think-tank's tradition is to go out to the road and wave goodbye to the buses and cars as they leave. The kids love this so much that they bring video cameras to tape their teachers waving frantically. Now they all have video footage of me sobbing, tears streaming down my face, trying to stop myself because seriously, why are those kids video taping me???
It was so hard to watch those cars and buses drive away. As their little hands waved at us from the windows I realized that these fast glimpses of smiling faces may be the last time I see many of these children. Children who I taught years ago but still care so much about. Children I've watched grow from being screaming kindergartners with significant needs to being caring, thoughtful and smart members of their upper elementary classes. Students I taught to read who I then stopped every morning in the hallways to ask them what chapter books they were now reading. Students who have overcome so much considering their difficult home lives and the turmoil they live with. These are kids who have occupied my thoughts daily for a year, or two. Kids who I'd think about falling asleep at night and think about again first thing in the morning. Children whose cases have driven me to read more books, learn more, and improve my teaching. Watching those little faces drive away was just too much. I lost it. The tears couldn't stay in.
When Rock Star drove by her car windows were open and she was leaning out the window, with the biggest, most confident grin. She waved like a princess. The shy little girl who avoided eye contact with any adult she didn't know (and sometimes those she did) was leaving on her last day of first grade with royal confidence. I hope I never forget the image of her driving away from me, destined to go on with confidence and excitement.