I came to the last day of school. I felt a wide array of emotions, from relief and excitement to fear and sadness. Mostly though, I think I was exhausted.
As I came to school, I was still planning to tell my students at the end of the day. However, the other teacher in my grade level had asked me if I had told my students yet. The reason she asked me was she was putting the names of my students on desks in her classroom earlier in the day, during one of her planning periods, which were earlier in the day. She was worried that my students might hear something during lunch. I decided to tell my students at the beginning of the day.
I explained that, because our class was so small, they were going to be combined with the other class. They asked me what I was going to do; I explained that I was going to be a substitute teacher at various different schools. They asked I would still be working at their school; I explained that I would not.
I spent most of the days with worksheets for my students. I used the remaining worksheets that I had and kind of marked time until the day’s end. That day, I felt completely like a substitute teacher and had no interest in much of anything. I did not care if they stood in line; I did not care if they worked quietly. At the same time, I felt guilty about that. Most of the students at my school were on free or reduced lunches. I remember one day a girl brought in the documentation for her family’s income ( a standard practice for schools providing free or reduced lunches.) The girl lived in a family of six, and her family earned less than me. (I earned $30,000 a year.) I had sent home homework for one students which included a coloring activity. One of my students responded that he did not have crayons at home.
I mention the last item because that was one thing I did during my last day. I interrupted the students during their computer class and asked if I could see him privately. I brought him back into my classroom and asked him if he had crayons at home. He shook his head so I handed him a box of crayons. I asked him to put the box in his backpack and go back to his class.
I spent a small part of the day telling the other teacher little details about my students and tried to enjoy their company. Unfortunately, I had already begun to disengage completely. For the last part of my day, one of the deans informed me that the school had purchased us pizza and pop. I tried to be grateful. In a way, I was. At the same time, I was losing my job, a reality that was becoming more and more real. I was about to lose my source of income and my health insurance. To think that pizza and pop would somehow make up for that was ridiculous.
I did have one last trick up my sleeve though. I had spent the week writing goodbye letters to each of my students in a journal. I had purchased a lot of writing books and I decided to give each student a blank one as a gift. I wrote them a letter at the front of the book, wishing them well and giving them some advice, mostly to work hard. I also paraphrased the saying from The Help “You are kind. You are smart. You are good. You are important.” The students were happy to receive the books and they were genuinely excited to receive a letter.
The day came to an end with a terrible sinus headache. The headache made me feel nauseated and I could barely even eat my pizza. When the gym teacher asked if I wanted to take my students out one last time to the bus, I declined. My head was killing me, and I no longer felt as though they were my students.
As I sat in my room, now mostly empty, one of the guardians came into the classroom. She was worried about how her nephew was behaving. She was having trouble controlling him at home. (She had recently received custody of him from the state.) I was honest about how he behaved in class and she was voicing her frustrations with his behavior and what she could do about him. I hated to interrupt her but I finally broke in and explained to her that I was no longer her nephew’s teacher; I had been laid off. “That’s a shame. I really liked you, ” she said. God bless her. I promised to inform her nephew’s new teacher.
I left the classroom for a reason I cannot remember. I believe it was most likely to say goodbye to my mentor teacher. When I came back, I was shocked. One of the instructional coordinators had recruited several other teachers to pillage my room. They were grabbing items off the shelf and out of my cabinet. “Those are mine!” I shouted, horrified that they were pillaging indiscriminately. True, some of those items were not mine, but some of them were. They were not interested in asking what belonged to me or not. They also said nothing to me. The vultures were circling.
The instructional coordinator removed all the items that belonged to the school and left. She did not say goodbye, she did not say good luck, or anything. I thought back to a time when I worked with a young man who was terminated for cause. We said goodbye to him as he was escorted outside and wished him well. I did not expect them to offer me a shoulder to cry on; I would have rejected such an offer anyway. I did, however, expect to be treated with respect and civility, or at least acknowledged before they came in to pick the meat off of my carcass.
I have to give a special shout out to the janitor. He came into my classroom to remove one of the bookshelves. He shook his head and said, “I feel as though I didn’t even get a chance to miss you.” He asked me about my plans and I said that I was going to sub. He wished me luck and assured me that I would find something soon. He is truly a great human being, kind and professional, and I will always think of well of him.
My friend came and stopped by to talk to me. She gave me some advice about subbing; she had done this for a couple of years.
I packed up my materials and packed them into my car. I donated the remainder or my prize box to another teacher. With that, I went home. I did not bother to unpack when I came home. My head was killing me and I was exhausted. I went home, changed my clothes, and crawled into bed for a nap.
At that moment, I was not unhappy. I was not happy per say, but I was deeply exhausted and thankful to be free of a terrible place. It seemed almost like a desperately needed vacation. I was looking forward to sleeping in and having a weekend without any grading or lesson plans.
In a way, the reality still had not sunk in; I saw nothing but relief and I was confident that I would find another job soon.