With students about to leave, a busy teacher feels suddenly lost

It's another brilliant morning in mid-June, and that feeling is back. Every one of these days seems beautiful and sad all at once.

My briefcase is growing thinner, my wardrobe lighter. Part of me is good and ready to be rid of these high school kids, who by June are about as manageable as a pack of dogs overdue for their walk. And part of me doesn't want to let them go.

They have a thousand ways to be anything but upright and attentive: Kevin lays his 6-foot, 5-inch bulk across four desks like a sated hog. Jessica sits on the window sill sniffing at the air wistfully. Sarah extends her trip to the girls' room by sneaking out into the parking lot to plaster her friend's car with wet paper towels. School is dragging on. I think, Enough.

But I also realize that I'm about to lose a group of people who define me. In a matter of days, these kids whose faces I look at every day, whose writing I puzzle over every week, will be off to Europe, to soccer camp, to bag groceries - anywhere but my classroom.

Some of them I've known for four years: I've seen them bright and sullen, honest and manipulative.

I think of Allison at 14, silent and distracted, who became as a senior the confident, capable editor in chief all the freshmen look up to.

I'll never forget Elizabeth, who gave me the finger when she thought I wasn't looking because she refused to yield ground when it came to ideas she believed in.

There was Justin, the computer whiz who read Joyce and Proust instead of his textbooks, who drove the principal crazy with his edgy newspaper columns.

And I still think of Laura, whose performance as a duplicitous Juliet - seeming to toe the Capulet line but really remaining true to Romeo - gave me a glimpse into her own life.

I saw them bloom.

But I will never again call their names for attendance. We won't pick up the conversation from yesterday, or finish the one we started in September.

My students are what make me a teacher. So, when they're gone, what will I be then?

Right now, I'm in a crucible of work and concentration. Next week, I'll be floating around like a helium balloon after a party. There will be that day after the last day of classes, with all the teachers wearing shorts and sitting around at tables, working. Quietly.

It will be a little weird. The bells won't ring. My classes will cease to exist, and the connection my students and I had, the daily reality we shared - whether joyous or painful or difficult - will fade as they grow.

Sometimes I wish for just one more chance to talk to them as they stand at this portal in their lives. I want to look at them calmly before they join the river of immortally young faces that flows through my memory. Keith will always be 16, his first, daring ear stud freshly implanted. Jennifer will always be a senior growling moodily at her computer terminal. Chris will always be a 14-year-old acting out the part of Odysseus, tied to the mast, in ecstasy at the song of the Sirens.

Each year a day comes, around the summer solstice, when I find I have no no quizzes to write, no papers to grade, no students to nag or praise or tease. And yet, there's the expanding light of June, and I get the feeling I should be moving, flying, going somewhere. But I'm staying. They're going. Once again, a set of adolescents will fly off on their journey to adulthood, while I remain and store their faces.

Mr. Hanson-Harding teaches English at Northern Valley Regional High School in Old Tappan, N.J.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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