The End of the School Year: When Change Is the Only Constant

I had a student last year who took up a lot of mental and emotional space. He demanded the room’s attention much in the same way a performer does on stage. I thought about him constantly—what I could do to help him in the next class, whether I should email home, and how to help him feel comfortable enough to let down whatever mask he was using to hide his true self. Other students’ parents would email me about his behavior, and more than one complained to my principal that I couldn’t handle the classroom when he was there. I cried alone in my room on more than one occasion, feeling frustrated, exhausted, and disheartened. 

We trudged through enough weeds throughout the year that come springtime, believe it or not, we’d reached a good place. He was a fantastic writer, an avid reader, and a deep thinker. We arrived at a point where he felt comfortable putting that persona first in my class, and I’d wonder if it was the same student who had caused me so much grief months before. Then one April day, I got an email from his dad asking if I’d write him a recommendation for a school in California. They were moving.

On the last day of school, I gave him a one-armed hug as he and his friends rushed out, yearbooks tucked under their arms, faces turned toward summer vacation. I remember observing that he felt awkward, not knowing what to do, knowing he wasn’t going to be walking these halls in the fall. I sympathized with this discomfort. It felt very human to watch him navigate this moment with his friends, not knowing what to do, who to hug, whether he should feel happy or sad.

Since this new school year started, I’ve thought about this student at least once a week. There’s been a large hole in the student body where he should have been. He would’ve been an incredible leader in our middle school. I missed him, and it was clear his classmates missed him. 

What a journey we had gone on together. Now he was getting off at his stop while I kept going, pretending I was normal. Pretending I was the same. 

When adults share which teachers impacted their lives, we don’t stop and think about it the other way around, too. Students leave marks on teachers’ lives, as well. In many ways, this student embodied the reason why I became an educator: to watch a student’s growth over the course of nine months, when the only thing you can do is marvel at what young adolescents are capable of. 

The end of the school year only heightens this feeling of disorienting change. Every week there are emails about colleagues leaving—leaving education, leaving the state, leaving our school. I’ve filled out more recommendations for students, some a shock as they pop up in my inbox. I’ve been asked to be on hiring committees as administrators turn their attention to filling the roles my colleagues are leaving behind. I’ve started to recalibrate in my mind what next fall will be like, but it feels impossible, since I’m still living the reality that’s about to change. I can’t imagine what the next school year will be like while living in the intense microcosm of humanity that is a middle school. 

We go through the school year a day at a time. It’s impossible to look ahead, or even look behind, because all that’s available is the present moment with all its difficulties and rewards. The students are our lives throughout the year, and my colleagues and I are in it together every single day, hoping these students learn something about our content, the world, or themselves. 

But then, suddenly, everything shifts and the world I’ve been living in changes drastically. Every spring feels like someone shook up some dice and threw the new numbers on the table, seeing how they fall. As the year winds to a close, I’m finally able to come up for air and take gulping breaths, trying to orient myself to the changes that are starting to happen at warp speed around me. I’m left trying to catch up.

It’s one of the first things we’re taught as kids: Change is the only constant. There is nowhere this is felt more than in the spring and early summer months at a school. The intensity of the school year starts to dissipate, and we’re left wondering how we’ll get used to the new reality on the horizon. The new reality where my effervescent colleague isn’t there, where my mentor’s room is now occupied by someone else, where students who’ve taken up a lot of space in my life are gone, maybe never to be seen again.

It’s a constant reminder that the only thing we can do is ride the waves of change, thanking the present moment for leading us here, and being grateful others were along for the ride, even just for a moment.
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Madeleine Wolfe

Madeleine Wolfe is an English teacher at Mounds Park Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota.