It seems like every year, my classroom has a song, or a movie soundtrack that exemplifies who they are as a group. A few years ago, it was the soundtrack to Trolls because that group just could not stop the feeling. This year, it was the soundtrack to The Greatest Showman and specifically the song This is Me. Talk about a powerhouse. The song is strong and reminds me that each of my students is a unique individual with a specific purpose and role in our classroom community, no matter how long or short their stay is in our room.
This school year was the most transient year I have ever had in my 16 years of teaching. I had a total of five student changes in my roster over the course of the year. Since there’s no guarantee that a student will remain in my room until the last day, it’s imperative that I make the most of every moment. That way, no matter when a student leaves my classroom, I know I have given them all the tools I possibly could to be successful in their next school.
With students moving in and out of my classroom like water, I learned the painful heartbreak that comes with a sudden goodbye. There were two students that began the year with me, who I invested my energy and love, but whom I would not get to see through to the end of the year finish line. Both of those goodbyes were filled with tears, sadness, but also hope for their next steps. I know this is common, and I know there are teachers who deal with transient classes every year. I feel for those teachers. It takes an emotional toll on any faculty member who has become a part of a child’s life.
For me, the coming and going of students shifted the dynamics of my classroom and required me to think outside the box to ensure that all students’ needs were met. It also provided a natural opportunity to review and reinforce classroom routines and expectations which resulted in a room that could essentially run itself.
Summers are for feeling free. Free of alarm clocks. Free of lunch schedules. Free of the emotional investment that a school year requires.”
In addition to saying unexpected goodbyes, I also had unexpected hellos. I pride myself on making a classroom community that is welcoming and kind. I believe it was because of our community, that had you walked in on the last day of school, while we smeared shaving cream across our tables singing along to The Greatest Showman, you would have had no idea who had been in my class for 180 days and who had only been there for 3 months.
No matter when they started, saying goodbye on the last day of school always gets me choked up. As educators, we often spend more time with our students than our own children, so we grow to love and care about each one of them.
As for the class of 2026? I will miss their smiling faces, the laughter, and active debates. I will think of them whenever I hear The Greatest Showman and reminisce about the fun we had in room 21. To me, they will always be fifth-graders, but I am excited for their futures and the young men and women they will grow into.
But first: summer.
A few years ago I wrote about why teachers need the summer to grieve the loss of their class at the end of the year. This need for emotional rest, as I called it, is incredibly crucial in order to prepare to make room in my heart for a whole new set of students. I also wrote about self-care, and how important it is for teachers to take care of themselves before they’re able to take care of their students. Self-care in the summer is just as important as it is in the school year as we allow ourselves to close the chapter on the school year in order to open a new one in September.
My goals for summer self-care will include making the most of time – I’ll travel and consult for Responsive Classroom for several weeks, I’ll visit with family and friends both near and far, and I’ll enjoy my son…my future Kindergartner. (Next year, I become both teacher AND parent in my school.) We’ll stay up later than usual, make s’mores on a Tuesday, and consider a trip to the pool his bath for the day. Summers are for feeling free. Free of alarm clocks. Free of lunch schedules. Free of the emotional investment that a school year requires.
So take time to rest up this summer, teachers. We don’t know what next year will hold for us, or the soundtrack that will carry us along the way. Thank you class of 2026, my fifth graders; who I lived and learned with in our room 21 community. Each cohort of students requires me to push myself in a new, unexpected, way, and they leave a lasting impact on me and my teaching. I am a better teacher because of our time together.