Well, we’re almost three weeks into the summer break and aside from a few nights out, I’ve spent most of that time doing very little: reading, sleeping, and taking walks along the canal. Perhaps you’ve seen the photographic fruits of my wanderings on Instagram and rolled your eyes at yet another #scenefrommiltonkeynes. To be honest, I don’t care. I haven’t really had the urge to do much else. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way—certainly not amongst the teachers I know. Speaking to a colleague yesterday, she said she was amazed by how long it takes to decompress, to adjust from the breakneck speed of term-time life into the more relaxed state of mind that’s supposed to accompany “holiday mode”. Personally, I’ve spent much of the last few weeks processing my feelings about the passing of another academic year, and the loss of a class of children who will be starting secondary school in less than a month’s time.
“Loss” might not seem like the right word, but that’s exactly what it feels like. It probably sounds ridiculous, and I’ve been reluctant to write about this, but what I’ve been feeling over the last couple of weeks is, I believe, something akin to grief—the intensity of which has, at times, overwhelmed me. It’s struck me down at the most unexpected of moments, and on more than one occasion I’ve ended the day on my bed, tears streaming down the side of my face. The reason? I miss my kids, man…
Here are some facts I’ve come to accept about myself: I am a sentimental old fool, prone to bouts of nostalgic longing and extended periods of introspection. I am not the most well-organised or conventional-minded of teachers – something that causes my colleagues much exasperation – but I care deeply about the kids under my care, and I do get quite attached to them.
Is that really so strange, though? As a class teacher, at primary level, you spend at least six hours a day with the children, five days a week. During that time, you share an uncountable number of moments with them, individually and collectively. Few people, I think, still fully appreciate the lengths to which teachers go these days, in order to make sure their children are “making progress”, and, y’know, just generally doing okay. We spend our lunchtimes planning lessons or organising extracurricular activities. We take time out of our own breaks to act as mediator in a quarrel between friends. We sit with them, individually, and listen to them pour their heart out after an argument between their parents. We act as mentor, life coach, and surrogate parent. And sometimes we teach maths, or art, or SRE…
Look, it’s been a tough twelve months—as it has for everyone, really. There were so many days when I wanted it to be over—days when I’d had enough of the early mornings, the crazy afternoons, the chaos and aggravation and the stress you accumulate and store in your body, all of which comes with taking charge of thirty children and trying to teach them maths and how to write and the basics of how their body works. But now it really is over and I’m grieving because those children are no longer “mine”. Not that they ever were “mine” of course, strictly speaking, but when you’re with a group of children for six hours a day, five days a week, it’s hard not to feel a degree of ownership. I don’t know if all teachers feel this way, but I think I’ve just found it difficult coming to terms with the fact that our time together is over, that the dialogue we’ve had over the last year or so has ended. I no longer get to tell them things—things I feel they need to hear. I don’t get to interact with them, help them with their anxieties, teach them new things. Basically, I don’t get to take them any further on their journey.
There’s nothing I can do about that, of course. All I can do is appreciate the fact that we shared a moment—or rather, perhaps, a series of moments, too numerous to count or recall each one. However, what gets me is that the set of circumstances under which we shared those moments will never be repeated. Those children will never be eleven years old again, and I won’t be… whoever I was. The sense of loss I’m feeling therefore, is, I think, two-fold. Not only are they no longer in my charge, meaning that I don’t get to see them anymore and do all those things I mentioned above, but they are also growing up. Children don’t stay children forever and soon they will be different creatures entirely. They will become teenagers, and their personalities will change, along with their priorities. The things they care about – as well as the people they care about – will change. They will, in short, move on.
I should be doing the same. In September, I’ll have a new class—younger children, who won’t be leaving primary school the following year. I should be excited about that. I should be preparing for them, getting my classroom ready and planning lessons. But right now, I just can’t get motivated. I keep thinking about my old class, and how quickly the last year went. I know this feeling will pass, and that once we get going again, I’ll be fine. I’ll have no alternative! There’ll be a brand-new set of challenges, I’m sure, and twenty-five expectant faces staring up at me—twenty-five tiny humans who will no doubt charm me in the same way my last class did, and all the ones before.
For the time being, though, I just want to relax—relax and remember and wander about, enjoying the last few weeks of the summer, taking more pointless pictures, and perhaps even shedding a few more tears at the end of the day, as another memory appears, unbidden, in the eye of my imagination.