As families in B.C. prepare for the long-awaited return to school, I am inspired to sit down and write out my own reflections of this past summer. In countless movies, we see children hard at work on their first day of classes, writing out their first essay of the school year. And so, I take a page from that to bring you...
What I Did On My Last Day of School
To begin with, this year ended abruptly. There was no year-end party in the classes, no wind-down, no closure for anyone in that school. It just felt wrong.
As the wife of a B.C. public school teacher, I was in a unique position. I knew that I needed to pay close attention to the B.C. Teachers' Federation website on June 16; when the announcement was made, I did a few things to end the year right:
- I had purchased the teacher's gifts at least a week before, so I made sure to wrap them up that night.
- I tucked two fabric shopping bags into each child's backpack to pack up their desk.
- I sat my school-age children down to explain to them what was happening, and to prepare them to say goodbye to their teachers and friends for the summer.
- I stuffed a dozen plastic shopping bags into two other bags to take to the school for the end of the day.
- I gave them cards to write in to accompany the gifts.
- I checked our pantry shelves and freezer to take stock of what food we had.
- I prayed for fiscal responsibility, to successfully get us through to July 15, when Hubby's summer payroll savings would kick in. And I prayed for strength.
- I prepared to call our landlord, to ask him not to cash our rent cheque for July.
What do you mean, this doesn't look like your summer preparation list? Normally, it doesn't look like mine, either. But this year was different. I can't say it was special, because there was nothing exciting about it, nothing to look forward to but financial uncertainty and enormous stress and anxiety.
On the last day of school, I went in early for pickup. My two youngest were with me, and we gave the bags full of bags to their siblings and sent them back to their teachers with offers to help deconstruct their classrooms. See, we knew they were only being given 45 minutes by the government before they would be locked out of their classrooms, out of their schools, and I noted that most teachers had elected to park in the church parking lot just off the school property in anticipation of that deadline.
Tell me, how exactly are teachers expected to clean out their classroom properly in 45 minutes? The quick answer is that they can't. I knew that when I walked into my daughter's classroom and asked, "What can I help with?" The look on her teacher's face was an odd mix of panic, sadness and mirth. She smiled wryly, and said, "Well, everything's got to be cleared out of the cloakroom. Can you stay to help with that?" I told her that we would stay the full 45 minutes, and it looked like she was about to burst into tears.
I know she's not one for emotional outbursts, so I quietly took the kids out of the room and began work. We stayed as long as she had work for us, and at some point, she looked around the room, and I watched as her shoulders sagged as she sighed and said, "I think that's all we can do. The rest will just have to be done in September."
A quick hug from my daughter, and we left her to have a few minutes alone before she was forced out by the lockout.
That afternoon, I cried.
I cried for my children, who didn't get the chance to say a proper goodbye to their friends in the schoolyard, because unlike past years, people didn't stick around. Children were scooped up and whisked off school property like there was an outbreak of leprosy.
I cried for their teachers, likewise denied the chance to give their students that important sense of closure, to give them one last supportive gesture to send them on their way.
I cried for the other kids, who had come to school wholly unprepared for that day. Not in the, "Gee, sorry you forgot to bring a bag to clean your desk with" kind of way, but real grief for the confusion and hurt they might be feeling, the sense of disconnectedness, and the uncertainty about the following school year.
I cried for my husband, who went through the same thing as the other 41,000 teachers in this province. He couldn't leave anything behind; his contract was only for that year, and we still didn't know where he would be teaching in September, if at all.
I cried for a lot of reasons that day. And I did it while hiding in the bathroom, because I knew that I had to present a brave face for my kids, and a strong one for my husband, should he feel the need to cry.
I don't ever want to have a last day of school like that again. And as a citizen who has been fully awakened to the realities of public education in B.C., I know I won't.
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