“You can only love what you got while you got it.” -Kate DiCamillo
I have one week left at a school that I helped open four years ago. And I have no idea how to feel about it. Relief that the year is almost over, obvious sadness to say goodbye to a community that has embraced me and a community that I love.
I go back to stories and people and find new reasons why I don’t want to leave, and why I do.
And I find myself angry about everything. Anger. Such a useful emotion, and so dangerous because it is so hard to control. But anger, useful in the way it helps me to disconnect, to push away, to let go.
I wish that instead of anger I felt acceptance. I wish I felt mindfulness. I wish I felt calm. But I’m not that enlightened. And it’s the end of the school year. I’m exhausted.
The secret I’ve been keeping is that I want everything to fall apart without me there. I want the whole school to fail. I want scores to plummet next year and everyone to miss me. Because I want to be that important and that amazing. I want everything to be about me.
When talking with my principal about leaving she told me not to feel badly. And I said, “I am just sad.” I know everyone. I know all the cafeteria workers and all the custodians. I bring Christmas presents for the engineer and she leaves me bags of oranges on my desk chair. One of my favorite parents came to my house during my maternity leave to teach me how to wrap my stomach. I’ve taught half of the students in the school. How can I possibly leave?
My principal said, “It really is your school.”
And it is. And it isn’t. Because people and schools don’t belong to one person, shouldn’t belong to one person. Can’t belong to one person.
I’ve been working on this in parenting. I’ve been reminding myself over and over my son doesn’t belong to me. Now I’m having to do the same in regards to my job.
The same part of me that wants my son to love and adore only me also wants my school to cease to exist without me there. Which is ridiculous for so many reasons, the biggest reason being that it is my choice to leave, no one is kicking me out. It’s a self-imposed exile and I’m all kinds of grumpy about it.
I’ve had good friends leave the school and the school has gone on without them, as it will without me. I hope that everyone will miss me next year, but in two, three, five years very few people will know my name.
In five years, when no one remembers me, what is my legacy?
Yesterday I was in my classroom, working on planning the school carnival. While I was there student after student came in. Some wanted to play a game, other wanted candy, others had stories to tell. But Natasha came in just for a hug. She walked in, arms outstretched, and said, “I just wanted a hug.” I hugged her, and then she left.
I’m angry because I’m leaving. Because I won’t be able to control what happens in our school from here on out. I won’t be the voice of dissent or assent in the leadership meetings. I’m angry because leaving means letting go. And I don’t want to let go.
But I’m also angry because leaving doesn’t make me care any less. Instead, leaving makes the small moments, like the hugs from Natasha, even more powerful and even more painful.
And it’s easier to be angry than to be sad.
At lunch today three second graders came up to my room. I asked them what they wanted to do. I expected them to say they wanted to play on my iPads. (The possession of the iPads makes me infinitely more popular.) Instead, they said, “We just wanted to tell you about our weekends.”
If I have any choice in how I leave, any choice in how I’m remembered, I hope my students remember me as a teacher who took the time to listen to the stories of their weekends. In the craziness of testing and Common Core, the decisions about what curriculum to use and how to structure our literacy block, I hope that listening to stories never stops being my priority, regardless of the school I am teaching in, regardless of whether I’m teaching or not.
I’m leaving. And my school is going to move on, with or without me. I want to want this and want to be happy about this. Eventually I think I will be. I’m trying to be thankful for the lesson I’m learning about how I am not the center of the universe, probably not even the center of my school. I’m trying to once again open up my clenched fists and let go.
With open hands or clenched fists, next Thursday will come. Angry or grateful, selfish or gracious, the goodbye is here. One more week left to leave my legacy.
I plan to give lots of hugs.