I have become accustomed to anti-climaxes lately. First, there was the whole matter of being away from school for my last semester. Leaving in December didn’t feel like the end; graduating in May seemed like an afterthought. Then, there was the end of my co-op. I left at noon that Friday, after cake and a quick round of goodbyes. I was on the road to Memphis by 3.
And then there was institute.
Having seen it all already last year, I was prepared for the unsatisfying ending. But just because you know better than to be disappointed, that knowledge doesn’t protect you much from disappointment in the end. Closing Ceremonies and the subsequent going out afterward would be a fine way to end institute – if it didn’t all take place on a Thursday night, leaving many corps members to forgo festivities for final lesson-planning and packing up cars. The last school team meeting would also be a fine way to end – if you didn’t all pile in a school bus to the same place right afterward. Friday night would be an excellent time for a last hurrah – if many corps members didn’t leave as soon as they were allowed, which for me meant less than two hours after school finished on Friday (I actually would have stayed longer had there been another flight on Saturday that didn’t require me to spend the whole day at the airport).
So that’s where institute ends: not with a bang, but a whimper, in the school bus parking lot, or in the hallways of the dorms, or – if you’re lucky enough to have at least some kind of finality – in the airport terminal. Everyone checks out at different times, and you’re left wondering whom you’ll see again – and when – and whom you won’t. Still, I am comforted by the new friend requests and confirmations on Facebook, and I remind myself that in a few days, I will join 100+ corps members in my new home of Memphis to begin our journey as teachers together.
I think what saddens me the most about the end of institute is that my collab and I forgot to get a picture with our students on the last day. I had brought my camera and everything, but in the spirited Q&A session we closed out with, it remained, forgotten, in my bag. I had wanted a picture as proof, you know, not that I had taught them and made some great difference in their lives – though, maybe I did – but that there had been these 18 students, before any others, who taught me some real lessons about privilege, expectations, and teaching.
My students are who I’d really want to keep up with, more so than any corps member I met, because I know we Teach For America people will be fine. We’ll struggle with lessons, grapple with the injustices done to our kids, but we’ll tough it out and come out stronger. I don’t know if I can say the same for my students. I want desperately for them to graduate, for them to further their educations, but I worry about the opportunities they will have, the doors that may close on them because they are not prepared enough. I just want to know, 2, 5, 10 years from now, that they are all right.
I remember one session in the 4th or 5th week of institute, during which the only note I had written, in response to a story our CS told about a student of hers, was: Will we always regret the students we didn’t help enough? It seems that in the middle of all the success stories, there are the stories of the students teachers let slip through their fingers, the ones teachers made excuses for because their home lives were so tragic, the ones teachers ignored because their behavior or language was offensive, the ones teachers just couldn’t get through to with investment. I have students from this summer whom I let slip. I think that they will be more memorable than the ones who met their growth goals.
Talk about your anti-climax.