Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

The end of the school year usually means a lot of hustle and bustle early in the day as teachers scurry to turn in keys and badges, count and store textbooks, finalize grades and contact students/parents about summer school if needed, return materials to the library, and of course, document everything.

By lunchtime on the final day, many teachers have finished what they need to do, and the pace settles down significantly. By 3:30, the building is nearly empty. The maintenance staff will be deep-cleaning the rooms and checking and repairing various fixtures throughout the summer.

As I sit in the teacher work room, I am surrounded by much that is familiar: the creak of a cart rolling past in the hall, the hum of the refrigerator, the faint whine of the fluorescent lights. Sunlight streams in through the large window, but the glare is muted by blinds that are plain but functional, with only a few slats missing. It is late May in Georgia, and the weather is a balmy 73F with blue skies dotted with puffy white clouds.

For me, the nagging sense of something is wrong here comes not from the end of this school year, but from the looming presence of the next one. The rhythm of the educational seasons has ground to a sudden halt. It’s like being in a car accident: the screech of the tires, momentary weightlessness and terror, impact – and then silence. When you realize you’re still breathing, there’s a mental inventory. Where does it hurt? Can you move? How bad is the damage?

What happens next?

And that’s where we’re at now. At this point in the school year, I’m usually wondering which classes I’ll have next year and how many students will be in each one. But we really don’t even know what school will look like at all next year. The pattern that used to be so reliable is unstable. Quite possibly it’s been destroyed completely; we just don’t know.

We don’t know.

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