I’m not very good at goodbyes.
I tend to spend a lot of time crying alone into my pillow, then being unable to show any emotion at all during the actual goodbye, and finally dissolving into floods of tears when the person/people have gone. I always worry that it makes me look very cold-hearted and uncaring when I say goodbye to best friends, my parents, family… mostly without shedding a single tear.
Children, however, appear to be the exception to the rule. Maybe it’s because they don’t try to hide their emotions like adults do, I don’t know. Every year at this time, I have cried with a child’s arms around my neck, trying to subtly wipe away my tears as I say encouraging and cheerful things to comfort them as they leave for ‘big school’.
This time, though, Hayley Teacher has to leave, too. I avoided telling the little ‘uns until today, when they informed me at the start of class that this was to be their final week at kindergarten, and they were sad “because leave and go to elementary school and say goodbye”. Most of them, however, were taking comfort in the fact that they would be coming back for after school English lessons in the afternoons. “Will you still be my teacher?”, someone wanted to know.
I paused nervously, weighing up how this could go. 12 pairs of innocent little brown eyes awaited my answer.
OK, everyone, let’s have a little chat. You know I’m not from Korea, right? There were a few nods, and I hurried on before the word Neptune could be mentioned. Well, I’ve been here for a long time, and now it’s time for me to go. When you leave, I will leave, too.
There was a moment of silence as they processed this and tried to understand what it meant. “But where you go?”, asked Rosy, looking alarmed. Stephen raised his hand. “You go home to Mommy and Daddy?”
I shook my head. I’ll go home for a visit… say hello. Then I’ll go to a new country. There was some pointing at the map and gesturing of arms to show flying and planes and suchlike.
“But whyyyyyyy?” came the confused chorus.
I’m very tired, I explained truthfully. I’ve been teaching here for years now, all day, every day. I need a rest. And I want to travel more. See new places. Understand?
They did. There was another moment of silence. Then, without a word, David shoved his chair back and ran to me, flinging his arms around my waist. I laughed a little, giving him a cuddle, and then suddenly John was there, too. Then Amy. And then Daniel was crying, and so was Rachel, and the lump in my throat was choking me, and I couldn’t help it. I cried in my classroom, surrounded by little kids and boxes of crayons and pieces of cut-up drinking straws. Damn! I don’t think teachers are meant to do that, but there was nothing I could do. We had one big cry-and-cuddle session before I realised how horrendously out of control the whole thing would look if anyone was watching on the classroom monitor, and tried to snap out of it.
Yes, it’s very sad, but you’re all going to have so much fun at your new school, and meet lots of new teachers, and have so many new friends! And we won’t forget each other. I’ll always love you and I’ll always remember you. So today, we’re going to make “friends forever” bracelets and rings. Everyone will have one. And when we look at them, we will smile and remember all the friends we made here, and be happy. Not sad. OK?
They liked that idea. We made the bracelets and rings. We took silly photos together.
Then they went downstairs for lunch.
I spent my lunch break crying at my desk.