There’s nothing else to call the last few days of school besides what it is: an honest-to-goodness, over-the-top shit show. And mostly, we are happy to wallow in it.
The ramped-up volume of voices reverberate in the slam of lockers and the lessening backpack load. Everything and everyone seems louder, even those kids who barely spoke all year, giving off waves of relief and celebration. And while we, as teachers, also are reveling in the joy, we all have one sincere wish: to keep our kids alive until they’re no longer in our charge. Among the end-of-year activities:
- Locker clean outs from hell. The custodians have spaced large garbage cans throughout the hallway, one grade at a time, depending on their day and time for cleanup. Theoretically, there’s plenty of room within these many receptacles for the contents of those lockers, even fermenting as they have been over the last few months: half-eaten sandwiches, juice boxes and straws, untold numbers of water bottles – empty and half-full and completely new; pens and pencils that once lived in shiny new pencil cases and are now, sometimes, a surprise to the owners, who haven’t come to class with a working one in weeks, months, or sometimes all year; books – textbooks, classroom library books, Media Center books – which students have been told not to throw out but are still found in, and retrieved from, wherever they have been tossed; “wallpaper” and “chandeliers” and mirrors and mini-whiteboards and locker shelves ripped from their magnetic grasp; papers that never had a home in a looseleaf from Day 1, ripped-out pages from two- and three-subject notebooks, their edges shredded, and the binders themselves, flung joyfully out of sight. Meanwhile, the teachers go around with baskets or plastic bags, hoping to retrieve the books and supplies that are still usable, thinking of those future students who will never have what they need. And although it shouldn’t be, the result is a disaster, the end of a war or ticker-tape parade.
- Chromebook returns and a blessedly yet terrifyingly screen-free environment. It is wonderful to be rid of those screens – except that the kids no longer know what to do without them. And then the move to the big screen: the movies most of us show to finish cleaning our rooms. And putting in final grades. And accepting – or not – the work from students who haven’t submitted anything for weeks.
- Nonstop movement. Dance parties and sing-a-longs. “I’ve got the horses in the back/Horse tack is attached” – now, that was a new one for me the last couple of years, along with John Denver’s Country Roads, which had suddenly become a hit with the 2019 crowd, and everyone knew the words. Card playing, once again. Students who beg to help you organize your supply boxes, industriously working on them for days, and those who have been too cool for school for too long looking for how they can still get into trouble. The occasional stink bomb. The discovery of oddities in the classroom, like the miniature plastic animals left there from our games project months before and recently placed – by some obviously tall student – up on the top of my cabinets, no doubt applauded by the rest of the class: and where was I when this was happening? (The student in this case ‘fessed up, though I had already figured it out pretty quickly. And we all laughed about it – the entire class, and me included. I mean, what else could I do?)
- Yearbooks distributed. Once a date was determined for our grade, it was up to the teacher to allow them to be visible or not until the last day of school, when there would be a grade-level yearbook signing. But here’s the thing about yearbooks: They’re expensive, more and more so each year. And the more expensive they got, the less often our seventh grade parents bought them for their children. I most definitely didn’t blame them, because I never did either, for my own children, except for when it was their graduating class – eighth grade or 12th grade – as it had been done back in the day for me. So I would show my students how to put together a makeshift yearbook with simple construction paper from the classroom folded into a booklet, with their name and info about the year on the front, and they could get the same little notes and signatures taking up an entire page and those who had bought the $38 yearbooks. And, of course, that was one more activity for those last few insane days of school. (To the oldies who may be reading this: Remember autograph books?)
- Presents dropped on teachers’ desks or given with a hug. Kids running from room to room to deliver them. Gift cards (yes, please! and thank you!), mugs, candy, handmade cards, and flowers. And this year, for my retirement, a sign that said it all, from a favorite student (yes, we have favorites!) who had been the one to laugh after I tripped the previous year and had been the butt of my jokes for the rest of the school year. (See blog post #39 – Wet Paint – for more about this.)
- In between everything, cleaning up our rooms. In my case meant not only boxing books that normally lived in freestanding cabinets, and finding a place for the junk that is my top desk drawer, and putting newspaper over the bookshelves to protect them from what, exactly? summer cleaning?, and getting my plants out the door and back home in one piece, but taking down posters and signs of encouragement and filing them away until next year. And why did we have to take them down every year? Were they washing the walls? Of course not! (Once every so often, the rooms were painted, so I got it then.) And so slowly, the more I stayed in my room, the less I moved out – until the very end, when the mini-dumpster (not that mini!) I asked for was wheeled into my room so I could dump in 15 years worth of plans and materials I’d never use again – and could never bear to part with before.
Year after year, it was a happy group of students coming through our doors during that last few days of school, with nothing to do but have the fun they’d wanted to have all year. There was nostalgia, too. And sometimes tears. But mostly, we could all taste summer now, preparing to melt on our tongues.
This year, my colleagues were each assigned a day to clean out their rooms, where their whiteboards greeted them with the date of Friday, March 13th – the last day they had been in those rooms facing live bodies (or, at least, mostly). There was none of that summer fever in the halls, just a need to get the job done and get out. And then, in these last few days, some teachers did drive-bys and some played virtual games, trying to bring some of that end-of-school excitement to their students as they saw the 2019-2020 school year on its way.
I know they tried.
And while the excitement isn’t as palpable, it is still a wondrous thing, really, to realize that the hard work is just about over.
At least, as long as our students end up leaving us in one piece.
Happy last day, or almost last day, to one and all.