It’s been a while since I last attended a leavers’ assembly, or other such end-of-the-summer-term-extravaganza with the knowledge that I wasn’t entirely 100% well. Last time I was behind the piano, sweating and shivering at the same time, my fingers slipping off the keys, the Victorian school hall a million miles away from the 80s structure I will attend tomorrow. Then, I was at the front, slightly to one side; tomorrow I shall be at the back.
Then, I was at the very start of my career, such as it is. A term in Year 6, and I didn’t have quite the connection to the children who were moving on as I do today. Tomorrow, The Leavers are children I have known, and loved, coaxed through SPAG, insisted on taking turns and capital letters, full stops, persuaded to explain themselves when answering my questions and answered endless ones of theirs, for four years. My professional children, well, some of them anyway, are flying the primary nest. Tomorrow, their primary education will be over.
I occasionally see their predecessors around and about. Only the other day, one of them came to collect one of his younger siblings from the classroom door. It was great to see him, looking shyly grown up, so sensible. Usually, I am in the car, and they are in their uniforms, multi-coloured blazers wending their way home through the playpark, waving and smiling at the teacher they knew so briefly. It’s lovely to see them again, to momentarily renew the connection.
Leavers’ Dos are always events of high emotion. After the roller coaster of Year Six, they go from looking so grown up, too big for the furniture, ready to move on, excited about the future, to small and lost looking, clinging to their final moments of safety. Amongst the adults, there is the slow switch from ‘thank goodness’ to, ‘awww noooo!’ When it was Sam’s turn he didn’t really understand; that goodbye was Goodbye, but most of them do, at those last moments, when the performance they have practice for so long is over.
I’ve taught them many times before, in the younger years, the ones who don’t want to leave you when you’re out in the playground, the ones who opt to stay in your room when the moment comes because, unlike their classmates, they are moving on, not moving up. They see the end is coming, and they do not greet it with joy, but with apprehension.
In some ways I know how they feel. Will their new teacher get them, like the old one does? Will they understand what it is that makes them act the way they do? Will they be kind – or harsh? It’s easy when they are moving up within the same school. You can take their new teacher aside, explain, check in with them at playtime, ask if they’re OK. They might even make the odd appearance, unscheduled, in your lessons, for old times’ sake. You still worry, but you see them enough to have your fears assuaged – or not.
There are a few, tonight, for whom I feel particularly concerned. There are always those whose little faces float, at the point between waking and sleeping, forever frozen at ten or eleven years old; they, and the faint feeling of unease they bring, that things for them may continue to be Not Okay, have never left me. Their names, I remember. I wonder how they are getting on – or not. But this year. This year there are those who have been burned by loss, their grief and anxiety clear in their unwillingness to leave their classroom, the side of the teacher they love, and who loves them.
I wonder how they will get on. Not just through the six long weeks of summer, the weeks that begin with the traditional instruction not to go with strangers and not to jump of the garage/shed roof for a dare, but in the months, the school ahead. I wonder. And I wonder if I dare to hope.