The last day of school is, quite simply, the best day of the year.
There are the unfortunate students who were pulled out early – a day or two, or even more – for some family vacation. I mean, can Disney World compare? Or a Caribbean island? I mean, it’s the last f-ing day of the school year!
And that year might have been a really good one, or a really sucky one, or somewhere in-between, but now, finally, it is OVER. This is it – the last chance to be with these particular kids, in this particular place; the last chance to be with these particular staffers, colleagues and friends, in this particular moment. Good riddance, or tears. And no matter what: The call of freedom, just outside these doors. There is nothing sweeter.
We just have to get through this day. Modus operandi: Try to follow the schedule, although it’s breaking down; continue to keep these charges of ours alive until they exit the building and are their parents’ responsibility. We have let the kids know that they will be able to get yearbooks signed today, and we hope and pray for good weather, so we can take them outside, everyone mingling, throwing around a ball or running around or, maybe, actually signing a yearbook or two. Bad weather is a bummer, with teachers guarding their rooms or on hallway duty as students travel in and out with their posses. Too many kids, too close together. We usually end it quickly.
For many, many years, I always made sure to have 15 minutes or so in my classroom for a closure activity with every class on that very last day, though maybe it was more for me than for them. I’d start by sharing my “Sonnet for the End of School,” which I wrote years before, when we taught sonnets. (See below.) Then, I’d play the song “For Good,” with the lyrics projecting on the screen; sometimes, depending on the class, we’d all sing along, and sometimes we’d just listen and watch. And finally, there was Green Days’ song, “Good Riddance – Time of Your Life.” How seemingly contradictory, that. I’d probably already played these songs over the past few days.
And then I would send them off. I timed it just so – depending on the schedule, it would happen just before they’d go out for yearbook signing, and at others, I’d call them in just before the end of class. But it always worked.
At least, for me.
Closure, as any teacher learns, is essential for binding that learning, for making it stick, for keeping it alive. And I needed that closure, and I needed to believe they did too.
And then, enough closure. I’d probably already played the song, “Summer,” from High School Musical, and I might end on that note. After all: Summer!
What was that song we used to sing? No more teachers, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks. As that final bell rings, and students run through the hall screaming, we hear the Alice Cooper song that’s been playing on our loudspeakers for years in these last moments: School’s out for summer . . . School’s out for – ever.
And last year, that final line was, at long last, true for me. But it didn’t matter that much. Because it was right now, at this minute, done for us all.
Then the staff heads out to the front of the building, en masse, where the buses are loading up with screaming, delirious students – but no louder or more delirious than my colleagues and me. It’s a tradition in my school that I helped start many, many years ago, and it is the very best closure for everyone. As the buses pull away, the bus drivers are honking, and kids are hanging out of the windows, and we’re waving and WOOOOOing and, sometimes, using clappers and bullhorns to send them on their way.
And we hug, as we go to drop off our keys, or pick up some last boxes or gifts. Some of us will see each other over the summer or keep some additional contact, but not with everyone, of course. And that’s okay.
And some of us will work summer school or write curriculum or go to workshops or do other jobs, and others will be lucky enough not to work at all, for even one moment.
It will be a while before I feel like school’s out forever. Right now, like everyone around me, I am simply in the moment: the very best moment of the year.
And yes, I know: This year was certainly an underwhelming ending. But it is still an ending.
Addendum: Sonnet for the End of School
The time has come – the words to say, goodbye:
We need to send you on, to let you grow.
You may not know it, but you need to try –
Your teachers are really sad when you go.
Within our classrooms, you have found a place;
Within our hearts, you will remain for sure:
Each of you carving out a special space
Even as you run, so fast, out the door.
On post-its, paper, and in your notebooks,
You’ve expressed yourselves, who you really are.
From us, we hope you’ve gained some new outlooks,
We see the best in you, that is for sure.
Come back to us, as you go on your way;
Your journey’s just begun – it is a magical day.