A teacher says goodbye to his classroom at the end of his secondary teaching career to do battle with an illness and pursue new opportunities.
all good things…
The sun was hot and bright, and I had forgotten to wear my prescription sunglasses to sit on the football field for the commencement ceremony. I teach middle school and only a few faces were familiar as I gulped my water, praying I wouldn’t pass out in the shirt and tie with the black gown and hood with my undergraduate colors of maroon and gold cloaking my shoulders. I sat listening as our valedictorian urged students to break out of the bubble of school and go forth into the world to start their respective journeys.
-”My name is Mr. Saucedo. Most of my kids call me Mr. S. I know it’s hard to get a new teacher mid-year.” The sixth graders looked at my chair. “This? I bet you have questions.” -I thought about the laughter that bubbled from my classroom and the time, Jai said, “Uh it’s raining in here, Mr. S.” Sure enough, a leak had made its way in. “Uhhhh, move your desk over while I call facilities.”
I listened to the names of each student being called forth for their diploma and I delighted in the sea of green hats thrown into the air. It happened so fast. All of it. One semester and 24 years since I was a kid.
-I thought of the tears. “You either choose kindness or you can leave our classroom until you can be kind,” as I handed a Kleenex to a ten-year-old who had just been verbally bullied. -I thought of pride. Someone learned how to use a period at the end of a sentence and was beaming when he showed me his fantasy assignment story, “Candy Land.” “Well I just love this, Charles.” It was really good.
I had plans to return for a second year at the school because one year was just not enough with this group. They’re fun. They’re loud. If you give them time, they let you in.
-”Mr. S., when are you going to walk again?” “I don’t know, but I’ll keep trying. We always keep trying.”
They know I’m sick. They liked to try my wheelchair out when I’d transfer to a desk chair. They clapped for me when I greeted them with my walker, shocked that I was tall.
“We thought you’d be short.” “Told you I was 6'6” “Are you all all better now?” The older students looked at me, eyes lowered.
What I say:
“I feel good today.”
Our principal thanked the faculty and staff and gave a nod to the two of us leaving our positions this year. “Mr. Saucedo will be moving on, but he has promised me that he will come back to sub for us.” I handed my resignation to him about a month ago. I signed it, “All good things…” because how else do you sum up a wish you sincerely believe and a wish for yourself as well? I had intended to stay. I have such fire inside me to keep going but when I go to speak, the words don’t always come out. My fingers tremor over the keyboard when I write. Things are happening that have happened before, but this time I realize another year in a classroom is not sustainable. I limp across the track back to my classroom, clutching my cane and praying my legs don’t give out. I take a picture in my room before leaving and I ask my mom and aunt who have helped me to clear out to give me a moment. It was only my room for a short time, but to me, it meant hope. Hope that anything was possible.
And I flash on the things you don’t say:
-Silently rocking to and fro inside. -I’m walking but it’s so hard to breathe. -I’m having trouble swallowing. -I need help picking up my fork from the floor when I tremor.
-I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that I’m leaving you because that was never my intention.
I look around my classroom:
-My reading rug. Someone always ended up using it to try and sneak a nap. -My free standing lamps because fluorescent lights…. ugh. -Our paper journals with humor and tears of life guarded behind my desk. -The Uno deck. Thank God for that Uno deck.
There are echoes:
- ”Who’s gonna teach us now?” an angry sixth grade girl spat at me. She threw a water bottle at me when I started there. Now she brings me her extra cookie from Popeye’s when she has one. She places it on my desk, smiles, and keeps walking. It’s always yummy. -My drawer with sensory fidgets for little J. -Our green plastic bin with community water bottles for anyone who needed a drink. They knew they could come up and take one when needed. “You got the big bottles today.” -That damn SmartBoard that always came unplugged. “We got it, Mr. S.” -”Someone said you’re leaving cause we’re loud.” “You are loud. You drive me up a wall but I love you all.” “How you gonna do us like this Mr. S?” “It has nothing to do with any of you. I love all of you like you were my own.” (Even when you said you hated me, I knew you didn’t.)
Kids are resilient but how resilient am I this time around knowing that I won’t teach at the secondary level again, only substitute teach? It’s sinking in. It’s been 24 Years and an Ocean Away to get to this shore where I will regain my footing. I realize that my journey continues as I look around my empty room knowing all good things come to an end, but I choose to focus on the ellipsis, “all good things…” because those ellipsis are where my next chapter of being a college professor, a writer, an actor, something still to be determined begins. I give my commencement speech to my empty classroom:
It’s time to break my own bubble, even at 41. But first: -I’m lucky to have gotten the chance to teach in my own classroom again. -I’m lucky that I can walk at the moment. -I’m lucky to have been driven crazy by the funniest kids this side of Chicago. -I’m lucky to have been asked back and to have been able to say no on my terms. -I’m lucky to attend graduate school and write. -I’m sad when I lay my head on the pillow, I think of them saying something so wildly inappropriate that I can’t help but laugh. -I’m sad that this illness keeps taking things just as I gain my footing. -I’m lucky they want me back to sub as I pursue other things my body can handle. -I’m sad I figured out how to be the best teacher version of myself just as my body said: No more, Jon. Stop. -I’m lucky I learned how to be the best teacher version of myself. -This was my classroom for a brief time and I’ll remember the voices and faces that filled it. -Sometimes, life doesn’t take you where you think it will, but you have to keep flowing with the current and knowing when to paddle and when to rest because when good things end, if we’re patient, a future filled with ellipsis is possible. This isn’t just goodbye. It’s a new beginning for us all.
All good things…
Jonathan (Mr. S)
I make my way to the door for just one more look. Just one more. Time to go, my kids. I’ll see you soon.
Originally published at https://www.jonathanmichaelsaucedo.com on June 10, 2022.