Yesterday was the last day of term. At half past nine in the morning, the three Year 6 classes wandered over to the field and the children gathered into groups on the embankment by the main school building. It was already warming up, but thunderstorms the night before meant the heat was bearable, offset by an occasional breeze that rustled the leaves on the trees under which the children had gathered. The children from Year 5 came out to watch and sat on the grass, facing the Year 6 children. There were benches for the teachers to sit on and a table with a laptop on it and an electric piano so the music teacher, Mr. Perry, could play along to the songs they would sing.
Once all the children were assembled, the Deputy Head stood up and addressed them, telling them how great it was that we were actually able to do this, and how proud we all were of everything they’d achieved this year. Then the Year 6 teachers took it in turns to say a few words about their own class. I had a short speech, which I’d typed up and included a silly anecdote about a DT lesson I’d taught when my class were in Year 3. I’d printed it out so I had something to focus on, because I didn’t trust myself to say anything without getting flustered and making a mess of it. I was nervous, but it went down well and everyone laughed, and after Mr. West had given out all the sporting certificates, the children sang their song to the Year 5 children and everyone clapped and we all went back into our classrooms.
We spent the rest of the day signing shirts and clearing the room. At breaktime, we had ice lollies on the field. For the second time that week, I went out at lunchtime and bought two bags of ice and handed out ice cubes for the children to put in their water bottles or just hold in their hands. I put on a film for them to watch while they ate lunch and then we all went back out onto the field before being summoned to the school hall for pizza. One or two of them complained that they weren’t hungry, but as soon as they caught a whiff of that hot dough and melted cheese they soon changed their mind. After that we went back to the classroom and futzed around and tidied up. It was loud and chaotic and for some reason, a few of the boys were singing ‘Last Resort’ by Papa Roach. I told them that song was over twenty years old and then explained the history of the much-maligned genre of music known as ‘nu-metal’. They… didn’t care.
And then suddenly it was all over. The time on the clock at the back of my classroom told us we had ten minutes before parents would be arriving, so it was time to collect their belongings and walk across the playground for the last time. Most of the children burst into tears at that point and went around hugging each other. It wasn’t melodramatic or cringey in the way I’d expected it to be, but genuinely quite moving. Several boys came up to me and put their arms around me and I felt a lump in my throat when they told me they were going to miss me. Mostly, though, they were going to miss their friends. Some of them have been together for eight years, in the same class, all the way up from Nursery. The girls were inconsolable. As they shuffled out onto the playground, they tried to say things through the sobs, about how much they all meant to each other and how much they would miss those who weren’t going to the same school next year. In an age when it’s easier than ever to keep in touch, FaceTime each other and arrange to meet up, I found this strangely reassuring, and for a while, I just let them stand there, their beautiful little faces all sweaty and streaked with tears, before finally ushering them across the tarmac of the Key Stage 2 playground, past the field, to the front gate where their parents were waiting to collect. Most parents wanted to speak to me, to say thank you or get a quick photo of me with their child. By this point, I was finding it very difficult not to cry myself, because I’d loved teaching these kids and I’ve known them for a long time, and the things their parents said to me were heartfelt and honest, and the gratitude and appreciation in their voices was overwhelming. Luckily, I was still wearing my sunglasses…
After everyone had left, I wandered back to my classroom and stared at all the stuff in the corridor, which the girls had packed into crates and boxes for me. There were several presents I hadn’t opened yet so I pulled out a couple of cards and opened them to see who they were from. One was from a girl who had written me a card back in 2018, which had almost singlehandedly convinced me not to quit teaching at a time when I was seriously considering doing just that. When I read the words she’d written yesterday, I really did burst into tears. It was perfect. I opened another envelope and inside was a very large card, which featured a photo of all the girls in the class standing in front of the pink stretched limo they’d hired at the weekend for their Leavers’ Festival. I was standing in the middle, looking both very proud and slightly awkward. Inside the card there was another beautifully worded message, three paragraphs long, and again the purity of what this child had written was too much to bear and I had to step outside and just stand in the shade and let the tears flow. I knew that the moment would pass and that it was kind of ridiculous to be standing outside my classroom crying over what an eleven-year-old girl had written in an end-of-term thank-you card, but for as long as it lasted I wanted to embrace that moment and appreciate what it meant to me, which, I have to say, is more than I care to admit, and more than most people will ever understand.