Just for today, I let the grade 10s leave before the final bell officially rang. They had asked all their questions, turned in the memoir they’d been working on, and maintained their composure for 73 minutes. They had even agreed to read at home. It seemed like enough. “Goodbye!” they called, and one or two lingered a few seconds longer than normal.
The period before that, the grade 12 students and I had worked together to make plans for our extended March break – all schools in Ontario are closed until April 5. The students met in their book clubs and planned various ways to meet for discussions: Instagram, Google hangouts Flipgrid and Google classroom will host our synchronous and asynchronous meetings. We talked about the value of journals and documentation during times of crisis, and the students decided to write regularly (I’ll provide prompts) for the next few weeks. They really want to learn, these kids. We watched Kelly McGonigal’s TED Talk “How to make stress your friend” and talked about reaching out to each other during our time apart. I reminded them that they could email me anytime, and I created a new Instagram account dedicated to working with them. I had to take a deep breath after we said goodbye.
I gave all the classroom plants extra water, gathered my things, and headed to the English office. There, several teachers were in the process of clearing out the refrigerator. April 5 is only three weeks away, but our unspoken concern was clear: what if this lasts longer? I swang by our Spec Ed room to pick up the avocado tree; it’s not really supposed to live in Ottawa, and it won’t last long without water. Back in the office, we threw things away, rinsed, washed, recycled. We gathered books, found papers, printed student phone numbers, just in case.
Finally, there was nothing left to do. Our goodbyes echoed through the hallways – “Take care!” “Be safe!” “Stay in touch!” – as teachers from various departments turned off the lights and pulled the doors closed.
Outside of the building, a strong wind threatened to topple the tiny tree I was trying to shelter home. The car door blew shut and my colleague and I, laughing, had to work together to get the tree safely, if awkwardly, ensconced between my knees.
Moments later, as we turned onto the street in front of the school, a group of soldiers marched by. We knew it was probably a training march, but it seemed oddly apropos. As we drove away from the school, from our students, from our social interactions, the incongruous soldiers in the rearview mirror, we laughed and laughed, trying to forget what we were leaving behind and how little we know of what lies ahead.