Empty Classroom

The final day of another school year has quickly come and gone, and summer vacation is but a few hours old. The desks have been cleaned and stacked. The books have been packed away in cupboards. Student work has been taken down and handed back to kids to either take home or add to the recycling bin already bulging outside our classroom door.

And the kids have all left the building in search of many exciting adventures far removed from school.

This final day of school lasted just four hours. Some of the kids did not even attend. I anticipated a morning filled with noise and unruly, reckless behavior. But, for the most part, there was no commotion. Our students sat on the floor and played Uno and Connect Four. Others listened to music on their phones. Some signed yearbooks. Some simply talked and laughed.

I have learned to sit back and observe, to listen, to learn.

All of my check-out items had been completed earlier in the week. There really was not much else for me to do. So I listened.

I didn’t push into their conversations but, occasionally, one or two would approach my desk and share what was on his or her mind.

Edwin…a homeless boy who has changed residence three times this year, announced he will not be returning to our school in the fall. Another move. Another school. Another surge of uncertainty through his soul. Tears formed at the corners of his eyes as he spoke. “I don’t know what it’s going to be like,” he said. I gave him a hug and told him he would be fine, that he had people here who loved him and were pulling for him. I’m not sure that I convinced him.

Roman…a smart, goofy kid who wasted every minute he could and who drove me crazy for much of his time in class, spent the morning trying to work for me. Perhaps his conscience was kicking in today for he continuously asked how he could help me. When I told him I didn’t have anything for him to do, he took it upon himself to clean up the floor, to stack chairs, and to help the teacher next door.

Mia…one of the hardest working, smartest girls in the seventh grade discussed her low score for the state writing test. She had received six out of ten points, a score significantly lower than any score she had received in all the time I had known her. I felt her disappointment and her embarrassment as she spoke, and I tried to assure her that her score did not define her. I explained that the test is graded by a computer – a computer that cannot discern feelings and creativity, what good writers call voice. I assured her that her voice was still amazingly strong and important and worthy. I’m not sure that I convinced her.

Leon…a boy with extremely severe emotional and behavioral issues, issues that have beset him for years was today extremely subdued. Even on days when he remembered to take his medication, he was never this calm. “My mother said I have to decide, Mr. Ramsey. Should I go to a private school next year or stay here and try to make it?” There had been many days this year and during fifth grade when I had been the object of his frustration, when I had been yelled at and cursed at and often simply ignored. The idea of another placement for this boy had often fleeted across my weary brain as a solution to both his and my agony. But now, looking into his eyes, I could see the fear, the sadness, the confusion. I replied, “I can’t make that decision for you, Leon.” I put my hands on his shoulders and continued. “Only you know what is best for your situation. You are a good kid. You will make the right decision.”

Some of my students have issues in their lives that I never had to face in my own childhood. Some are facing problems that I don’t think I could even withstand as a grown adult.

And now, they are gone, away from their safe haven at school. For some, they are walking directly into the storms swirling inside their own homes.

So I say a prayer that they will be safe and happy and that they will return in August unscathed.

I pray for Marta whose mother doesn’t want her anymore and who is sending her away to live with her father.

I pray for Eliza who must spend her summer assisting her mother in caring for her father, a man virtually unable to move or speak due to a car accident from last year.

I pray for Sergio whose careful cockiness only partially covers up his insecurity about becoming a man in a family abandoned by his father.

I pray for Flora whose father blames her for her mother leaving him and who drinks until he is emboldened enough to assert his anger.

I pray for Conner whose immaturity and desire to fit in has now resulted in retaliation from the very people with whom he has chosen to associate.

I pray for all of those who did not come to school today and hope that they simply wanted an extra vacation day, that nothing has happened to them, and that they will indeed return when school reopens.

We live in troubled times. Perhaps we always have. But kids are a constant. They have an unseen energy that can permeate a classroom in seconds, filling it with laughter, with imagination, with pandemonium – with life.

I pray that every single one of my kids will keep that energy within their souls throughout the summer. I pray that they will return in August ready to release it (in very small amounts at first) and that my quiet, empty classroom will once again come to life.

Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2019.

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