You would think that I would be used to endings by now. I finish several books a week, following the tales to their final word. I run races, keeping my eye on the finish line. My weekdays are filled with bells that signal the end of a class period seven times a day. I’ve been through 29 last days of school – some as a student, some as a teacher and a few as both. Hell, even my blog is about an end.
So why do endings, even the ones I look forward to, still manage to feel abrupt? Too soon? A premature conclusion reached before resolution?
This past Friday was the last day of school with kids. I had been waiting for that day, counting down since the end of the spring testing season. Many days, it felt like the end would never come. The days felt longer, the children squirrelier.
But then, that final bell did ring.
As I watched those faces pull away in the school buses for one last time, I felt a loss. For the past nine months, I have laughed and cried with those kids. I have driven them crazy and they have driven me crazier. I’ve struggled to help them make sense of algebra and we have struggled together to make sense of tragedy. For nine months, those 120 teenagers are part of my extended family. And then they’re gone. I will never see or hear from most of them ever again. In one day, they go from constant presence to memory.
Eighth grade is a crossroads year. It is time when teenagers are beginning to develop themselves apart from their parents. They are learning to make choices and beginning to understand the nature of consequences. They try on different personas as often as outfits, going from class clown to teacher’s pet and back again in a blink of an. I call them 150 lb two-year-olds, as they test boundaries yet want to know that you’re still looking out for them. I see them develop over the year into more independent beings but I don’t get to see the conclusion. In May, many of them are still at a crossroads and I am unsure which path they will choose.
It often feels unfinished. I find myself, years later, wondering about certain students. Hoping they did okay yet fearing that they did not. I have to trust in them and relinquish any influence. Sometimes, I receive the gift of an update when former students track me down. It’s funny – I can see the echo of the eighth grader I knew in these adults, yet there are years of experiences that have shaped them after they left me. In some ways, they are frozen in time for me: middle school in perpetuum (now that’s a nightmare!).
I think we all struggle with endings, even those that we initiate or those which we welcome. Every ending has elements that we relish leaving behind and facets that we will miss. Every ending brings uncertainty and transition. Every ending requires a re-scripting and reappraisal as we disentangle ourselves from the past and set course for the future. Every ending has opportunity.
My school year begins with a list of names. Monikers with no faces, no personalities. My year ends with a list of names, as I file reports and stuff report cards. Only now these names have meaning. Visages. Character. The year may have ended, but its impact has not. Those nine months together have influenced us all regardless of what our collective futures hold.
We tend to see endings as a termination, a conclusion. Perhaps it more accurate to think of them as a transition, a sign of change. It may be over, but its reverberations carry forth.