Twisted Colossus groans, strains and trembles A teacher’s lament over the sudden end of the school year

May 2, 2020

 Twisted Colossus is an iconic roller coaster at Six Flags in Los Angeles. The thrill ride is marked by steep banks and unrelenting barrel roll inversions, spirals and a near vertical drop. What if you rode Twisted Colossus and after the initial climb it stopped at the peak, unable to release the built up momentum?

 

That’s exactly how many teachers and students feel right now. Third quarter grades had been given. Fourth quarter started in March 12. Lockdown began March 16. Nobody expected the shutdown to last this long. Or that the school year would end so abruptly.

 

Each class each year is a unique combination of personalities. It is like a sunset – you cannot duplicate the dynamics once a moment passes. I had a very special bunch of kids this year. I often wondered if these kids woke up every morning thinking, What will I do today to make Ms Flores happy? It seemed like they had a special love and kindness towards me, often caught conspiring to help their teacher. Aiyan, Ameena, Zabria, Alexandra, Braeden, Jhodie, Noah, Logan, Geniever, Lawrence, Charlotte, Mikkel, Maia, Trayton, Alyssa, Nick, Keichiro, Tyler, Shawn, Leovan, Livee, Soberlyn, Kayrina and Russl - I miss them all terribly.

 

I asked Melissa Hernandez,  5th grade teacher across the hall, what she misses.    “I miss the connections I felt with each student . I miss their excitement of confidence, when they get a practice problem correct, on their own, because there’s nothing better than seeing them really get something and feeling confident about it. When my students love what they are learning and are totally interested in what we’re doing, it makes me happy. I miss the way they make me laugh! I miss the way they make me smile. I miss the way they make me proud to be their teacher,” she said.

 

Her fifth grade students - along with ninth and twelfth grade students - will miss the promotional and graduation exercises. They will miss buying a new dress, shirt or shoes, putting on make-up, having their hair braided, combed, gelled and sprayed; and teetering in their high heels as they march down in their Sunday best and toga to the applause of family and friends.

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Families and friends will miss buying leis and balloons and using bullhorns and making posters or ordering human sized cutouts of their graduates, gathering at a boisterous graduation party afterwards, giving money envelopes. They will miss the chance to watch the class videos with funny pictures of them as babies. They will miss acting silly on stage when their name is called to get their diplomas. There will be selfies that will not be taken, pictures not shared or posted on Facebook and Instagram. Valedictorians and salutatorians will not agonize over their speeches. “Pomp and Circumstance” will not be played.

 

They will miss field trips they raised funds for all year. They will miss sports days when teachers act silly and compete with each other, school dances and proms,  popcorn served by teachers on the last day as they watch a movie together in the classroom. Corsages and tuxes, slow dances with their crushes, and drinking fruit punch while the strobe lights whirl around them. They will miss helping the teacher clean the classroom until it is wiped clear of any evidence they were there. Teachers will miss shopping for end of year gifts for their students. Students will miss the final countdown to the last minute of the last day of school, when they burst out of their classrooms and scream “School’s out for summer.”

 

Yes, school is out, but it is not yet summer. Notebooks and pencil cases are still inside desks. Student work is still stapled to the walls. Teachers’ lesson plan books are still open or bookmarked to the next  day’s lesson. Worksheets that were copied ahead are waiting to be distributed.

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The classrooms are still full of objects of life but there is no life in them. Instead they are a picture sorrow bemoaned over a promise that is not kept. A promise to children whose hearts break because the source of much meaning and joy is taken. A promise by teachers to students that we will finish the year strong. A promise by teachers to themselves that they will help a child learn up to the last possible moment.

 

Grief is deep sorrow over something or someone lost. To some the loss of the school year is not the worst kind of grief. But grief expert David Kessler, author of “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief,” cautions against ranking different kinds of grief. The worst kind of grief is the grief you have, he said. It is easy to ask a student or a teacher not to grieve the loss of the schoolyear “because we are keeping you alive”. To that student, the worst kind of grief right now is not being able to carry his teacher’s lunch or play football with friends or turn the tassel from left to right. To that teacher the worst kind of grief right now is not being able to teach her students.

 

The sudden end of the school year is like a powerful roller coaster unable to complete its ride. Twisted Colossus groans, strains and trembles at the pent up energy not released to its intended spirals, banks, inversions and near vertical drop,

This is our lament. This is our sorrow and our grief.

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  Jeni Ann Flores is a cool teacher, robotics coach, aspiring drone operator and wanna-be writer. You may read more of her writing at https://teacherseditionflores.blogspot.com/. You may reach her at teachersedition.flores@gmail.com.

 

 

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