They arrived this morning freshly scrubbed, pressed and ironed, looking starched and nervous. It was strange and wonderful to see them out of uniform. The boys wore slacks and dress shirts. Several of them even donned ties. The girls wore swirling dresses. Curls bounced where pigtails had been. Tennis shoes gave way to high heels. I recognized them only by their giggles, which hadn’t changed.
Pictures were taken until all we could see were flashing blue dots dancing before our eyes. Phone numbers were passed around. Summer plans were discussed. “I will never forget you,” promises were exchanged.
Then came time for the ceremony. The fifth grade teachers lead the procession. As the students entered Dommanick Hall their parents stood and began to clap — and already my eyes filled with tears. A few deep breaths as we took our places on the stage, and I was fine. Then the principal started to speak.
The Principal and I started at Lincoln together. It was her first school. I was one of her first hires. We did not always see eye-to-eye and some of our encounters were rocky, but today when she stood to speak about her five wonderful years at Lincoln, we were in complete accord. She, too, is leaving this year. She announced her departure with a catch in her voice, and by the time she reached the part of her speech where she spoke of remembering the graduating class as kindergartners, half the room was crying with her — and a few tears escaped my control.
Because I am Ms. A, my class was presented first. I kept it together for hand-shaking and hugs. We made it through, each and everyone of us, without a mistake or a sniffle. I was proud of them. I was proud of me. Of course, there were 4 more classes to run the reception line gauntlet, but I had made it through the hardest part. I thought.
The other Ms. A’s students were next. Her class was as emotional as mine was stoic. They came up raining tears and made their teacher cry, which — in turn — choked me up. Then I looked out at my class and saw several of my girls sitting still and straight with silent tears rolling down their cheeks.
I remained standing, smiling proudly, shaking hands, but occasionally a tear slid down my cheek. Mr. K’s kids were emotional, too. Several of them launched themselves into my arms for hugs and tears. They did the same to the other teachers.
Ms. P., also leaving this year, started crying before her first student was called forward, so of course her kids were teary. More wet hugs. And then it was Mr. S’s turn. He hugged his students — each and every one –and offered each of them a personal comment about how much they’d meant to him. He cried. His kids cried. We exchanged wet hugs and I dripped a couple more tears.
Then, thankfully it was over. The future graduating class of 2014 was officially declared 6th graders and dismissed. That’s when my class lost it. They came then, throwing themselves into my arms, red-faced and crying, “I don’t want you to leave!”
I comforted them. I posed for endless pictures, chatted with parents and finally escaped to my room 40 minutes later. Through it all I spilled only a few more tears. Vanessa came to the door. She had left something behind. Could she pick it up? The answer was yes, of course.
She gathered her purse and a gift another child had given her. As she walked to the door, she thanked me for being her teacher and said it had been a wonderful year. At the threshold she paused and looked back. “I am not saying good-bye. My little sister still goes to this school, so I will see you next year.” Then our eyes met. She remembered I was leaving, burst into tears and rushed back for a hug. A couple more tears escaped me, but even then I did not really cry.
Shortly after Vanessa left, Jimmy came to the door. “Ms. A. I forgot my report card.” I gave it to him. He slowly folded it like a pamplet and stuffed it into his back pocket. Jimmy was my newest student. He was only with me this last quarter. He stood there for a long time with his head bent, then finally he looked up at me. “I never had a nice teacher before,” he said. “Thank you for liking me.” He fell into my arms and burst into tears.
And so did I.