On a Friday about three weeks ago, just after drama/choir practice while I was post-conferencing with a student, I received an email stating that my transfer was confirmed. Next year I will be teaching at John Chisholm Alternate School in Moose Jaw.
I was really happy for about 4 minutes – I looked towards the grade 12 student sitting across from me. He graduates at the end of this year, yet he wore the look like a four year, that look of certainty that I’d always be here, perched on the corner of the desk, on the counter, staying late after choir or basketball, here listening to or sharing stories. I watched his face. His features moved into a sort of contorted calm. The storying space he’s found these past few years lives now inside him. This space is no longer tied to the classroom, to the basketball court, to the short-stories, to the hours spent chatting after school or, really, sigh, even to me. It is his stories that matter. “It’s a good move for you. I’ll help the others on Monday.” He looked down then, and then, back up, and he was again the youthful-teary-eyed kid from moments before. And then he left. He said he’d stop in and say hi, even have coffee when he was in town on Saturdays to work on projects with my daughter. And then he left. As I watched him go, I wondered if it was my face I saw mirrored in his puffy cheeks. I am ready; I am just not always as brave as I seem.
That next Monday I had to tell my kids that I would be changing schools next year… At the urging of a dear friend and teacher on staff, I told the kids in first period. I know I’ve had more difficult teaching days. There are suicide-stories that are part of my teaching story. There are days when kids have walked out. There have been times when I’ve held kids as they’ve wept in pain because of situations beyond any of our control. There have been days when kids have been missing and we’ve driven around into the night looking for them. Those days have been tough. That Monday ranks among them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve moved schools before. I’ve said goodbye to students before; three years ago when I left my previous school I thought the pain and ache of leaving there would never subside…
Kids are not names on an attendance list nor are they only faces in a room. These kids have been part of my family for three years. We listen to each other. We look out for each other. That first period we sat. That day we kept busy.
Though we cried, I don’t think we really wept until a few days later. I arrived for class then already in tears and was met by senior students who had questions, who wanted to spend time in our space to share stories, to push back. They wanted me to share the movie I’d made of our “storying” for my final course for my graduate thesis work. After all, this is the work that is ultimately pulling me away from our space.
I shared the video with the senior kids and by the afternoon, the 9s & 10s had caught wind of this sharing and insisted I share the video with them as well. But sharing is difficult. Leaving is difficult. One of my grade 10 students – a kind, gentle 18 year old – who watched the video earlier and who had come to our story space just this past September, who has had many school-stories filled with negativity (stories to leave by) and learned in our space to tell his own stories to live by, is struggling with my leaving. He went home.
After we watched the video, the rest of us walked and walked.
Over the next few days, many of the kids, in their own gentle way, stopped in. It was like they knew, like they had times slotted in, though, of course they didn’t. What they shared with me was that they believed this transition was a good one. They shared they were proud. They shared that they felt I would fit well at JC. The kids spoke of my needs – not theirs. The kids responded with kindness. They spoke of this transition in a way that said it was needed to continue the work of honouring stories.
They shared that stories matter.
You know, it has taken me weeks to write these few paragraphs. I just can’t seem to capture how much the past three years with these kids has meant to me. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to live in the midst of their stories. They are amazing human beings. They have taught me so much.
When I arrived here three years ago, I missed my old home. Now I know I have another home too; home is a storying space inside. My students have taught me how to listen, how to share, and when & why we share our stories. How will I ever honour that gift?
When you do not want me but need me, I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, I must go. ~Nanny McPhee.
Late last week, one of the kids in grade 11, Sydnee, looked at me, smiled beautifully, slowly, came over and hugged me.
I said, “I’m not spending the next two months crying, Sydnee Marie!”
She smiled, “Yes, Yes you are.”
She’s probably right.
I love our kids. I will continue to know them.
They are my family
We have snooped abandoned houses, shared tea at four in the morning, played basketball all night, rubbed regurgitated fur on our cheeks. We have held each other while we shared our stories of death, illness, loss, suicide, abuse, addiction, fear, oppression, and indifference. And we have laughed. Oh, we have laughed. We have sat around our class tables pulled together, around campfires we made, atop snow piles we shoveled, in thickets filled with wood tics and we have laughed until our sides ached, until our cheeks hurt, our eyes blurred until our stories mattered; we have laughed.
We have shut our door and talked it through. We have hiked it out. And then, we have done it all again.
We have opened our journals; we have sent text messages, picked up the phone and just checked in because, “I know you’ll worry.” We have let each other find our own way – turned to story and just let be – because that is trust too.
We remember. We remember because we have storied.
We remember because we are family. Mostly, we remember because we love each other.
So, I’m changing schools next fall.
Leaving home is difficult. Sydnee was right, I’ll likely cry for the next two months. I’ll likely always be smiling-crying; I am so proud of my kids.
I like that all of us know that none of us have any intention of saying goodbye.
I love my family, yes, I’m crying…