As A Chapter Closes

Another one begins. I have this love-hate relationship with change. I always love the new and exciting, which I guess is part of the reason that I love to travel so much. Change brings with it a plethora of different and unique experiences. But with change comes this feeling of leaving something behind – like a part of you is being left wherever you were. And then the question is; does that part of you get forgotten? Do you remember that place, have those personal connections, but everyone else moves on? Ever since I was a little girl this has always troubled me: Do we actually leave a part of ourselves behind? Are we less of a person because our whole selves do not come with us?  And then what happens?

I remember feeling this way when I moved between 6th and 7th grade. I said goodbye to everything around me, and promised myself and my friends that I would be back. But when I returned four years later, everything was different. I found myself in the places I had grown up, yet, it was almost like I was never there. The buildings were there, my memories were there; I could point out to you where my heart was broken, my favorite tree, where I had been dropped on my face, the acorn war zone, the playground that was my spaceship to the moon, but the people had come and gone. It was like looking into a snow globe of the past. I was there, but I wasn’t. I have pictures, notes, and objects that remind me of my childhood. I have countless stories to tell. But I feel like there is a piece of me still back there. But she doesn’t have any of her friends who have long since abandoned her. In a sense, she’s just a ghost. As I am ending the chapter of another year of teaching, it comes with many of these same bittersweet emotions. And I am left wondering, who am I leaving behind? What will I find if I ever return?

I believe that a huge part of teaching is developing a relationship with students. I love my students, as much as if they were my own children. For nine months we have worked and grown together; saying goodbye to them has been challenging. I always tell them, “Once you’re my student, you’re my student for life.” And what is left of these nine months? Well, if you look above the cabinets in the prep room there are a few pieces of student work. These are just mementos of ideas for a future teacher to do, but really, that is all that is physically left of my time there. Most likely these things may not even last through the summer before a new teacher or janitor comes in to clean it out.  I even took my name plate with me, so there is nothing that marks that door as once being mine. As I pack up the things in my class and return it to the plain, empty walls where it all started, I wonder about who will inhabit the room next: What activities will they do? Will they care about their students? How will they decorate the walls? Will I just be another teacher that came and went?  In reality, did I leave anything behind?  Am I pondering all these questions for nothing?

But I can’t help feel like something isn’t quite right. I can’t help but feel like there is a piece of me in all of these different places I have lived and worked. So, I suppose that no matter what the circumstances, when things change a piece of us is left behind. I definitely feel like I am not walking away from this classroom with a whole heart. But this is what I have come to realize; the pieces that I am leaving behind aren’t necessarily physical. It’s not about the buildings or the school projects or the name plates. I’m not really leaving a ghost of girl long forgotten. Rather, I am leaving behind memories: of assignments that didn’t always go as planned, of countless hours working through problems, of questioning and testing and talking together. So instead of my life being smaller, I believe that change allows my world to grow bigger. I don’t think that changing and moving takes away who we are. I think it enriches our story. Each of my childhood friends, is a part of who I am today. Each of these students I taught carries a part of me. And maybe, my interactions with them, in this tiny part of their life, made a difference. Who knows what these students will accomplish? Maybe that is really what I leave behind. Maybe it was just an encouraging word, a smile on a bad day, a helpful hand. I hope this is the piece of me that I have left behind and it makes me wonder what might happen next because I left those parts of me behind.