2004-06-18 / Columnists

School Scope

By Norman Scott

The End Is Coming! The End Is Coming!!

The smell of roses is in the air even if a skunk should walk by. The sun is shining even if a storm is raging. Birds are chirping. Your smile is as high as an elephant’s eye. Yes, it is the final day of the school year, the single most joyous day of the year for teachers and most other school workers. For parents? Nah! If you’re both a teacher and a parent – tear yourself in half.

That final day starts with euphoria, progresses to delirium, and usually ends at some wild party where all the tensions and frustrations of the school year are released.

Until this year, schools had to deal with children for at least half a day. That half-day was always unofficial. One year, my District Superintendent woke up on the wrong side of bed and mandated that the kids had to stay all day, announcing it only that morning. The buses didn’t know which way to turn. Talk about chaos and confusion.

Despite the euphoria of the last day, those final hours of trying to keep the kids occupied, while trying to wrap everything up, are intense. Why have kids in school for such a clearly wasted day? The answer always was that we needed to show attendance to get state aid. Over the years, realizing that sending kids to school for half a day was a waste of time, fewer parents sent them. There will be no children in school this year. Surprise, a rational decision by the DOE.

The last day of school pops up on Monday, the 28th. I’m surprised at the number of people who seem upset at having to come in that day, somehow feeling the DOE is short-changing them. There should be joy at having a final day without children, which should allow a sane wrap-up to the school year – say goodbye and start the party at a reasonable time, like 10 AM. But we know that won’t happen and should expect some insanity like meetings and staff development – any way that can be found to extract every minute of productivity.

At some point it will be time to turn in the keys and whatever paraphernalia is being asked for (some schools used to make everyone line up for their checks, but electronic deposit may have eliminated that procedure for many) and head for the nearest party. Of course, some districts/regions schedule meetings for summer school on that afternoon. Party poopers. (I once had to take a three-hour licensing exam that didn’t end until 8 PM.)

I vividly remember my first last day back in the late 60’s. I took the kids down to lunch and said goodbye. No matter how great the last day of school may be, there are some sad moments at this point, especially when the kids have graduated and are leaving the school. That was especially true with my first class, where things had started out so badly but ended up well. (See The Wave: Teaching in Today’s Schools: Have things changed that much? Jan. 2 and Jan. 16, 2004.) Even though they were only in the 4th grade, they were going on to a middle school that began with the 5th grade. Boy, has the worm turned as we have gone from the original k-8 to decades of middle schools and now, back to k-8. I’m sure we’ll see it all cycle back to middle schools one day.

Since this was my first class I wasn’t sure of the procedures but I knew I had to turn in my role book and keys and record cards before I could get my check. I was running late and many people were leaving. I ran down the stairs with these items. When the AP looked in my role book he told me I hadn’t totaled up all the attendance figures for each child for each month. What?!*% I have to total months of attendance for almost 30 kids? It would take hours to do it all.

And it did. The school was practically deserted when I finally finished. I was so tired. I ended up missing all semblance of partying and just went home and fell asleep with numbers from the role book floating through my head. My intro to the joys of the last day of school was an inauspicious one.

Fast-forward about 35 years to 2002. I am retiring and this is truly my last day. This should be very special and I am somewhat in a daze. I have been working in the media center of my district for the past few years as a technology staff developer. I got to cover a lot of schools in the district and I am invited to many last day events. My old school is partying, as is the school I am based at. I have lots of places to go.

But there’s a snag. We are giving away about 20 computers to one of the schools to jump-start their lab. These are massive 80-pound MACS with lockdown devices that are bolted to tables. So the receiving school has hired a truck to come and get them. I spend the entire day preparing them for the move. It will take the movers at least two hours or more to move the computers and it is one of the hottest, most humid days of the year. The truck is supposed to be there by 1 PM so I expect to get out to join the festivities going on in bars all over Williamsburg right after they come.

But the truck doesn’t show. Hour after hour goes by. They are stuck in traffic somewhere and we are making frantic phone calls. The entire NYC school system is a ghost town, the bars all over the city are filled with teachers, and I am stuck in the midst of a bevy of behemoth computers, all mocking me with their happy MAC smiles.

Finally, the movers show up. It is almost 5 p.m. They look at the computers and it is clear there is no way they can move them today. They will have to come back tomorrow. Me too. I have to go into the office on the day after my last last day. I feel like I’m in a bad movie. Maybe I am and have been for 35 years.

I drag myself to one of the bars. It is about 5:30. The DJ announces my retirement. Scads of young teachers come up to congratulate me and say how they wish they could be retiring too. (Pretty sad state when 20-somethings are envious of a 50-something.) I am not sure how I feel – I will never again experience the last-day-of-school euphoria. But I remind myself that every day of retirement will be like a last day. I have a beer or two. But I am so tired from all the schlepping of computers that, like my first last day, I drag myself home and fall asleep – this time with pension numbers floating through my head.

I rethink the question. Maybe the last day is not all it’s cut out to be. And I will never again experience the wonderful morning after. Teachers who are not retiring wake up the day after the last day of school floating on air, feeling more relaxed than they have in the last 12 months. But by noon there is a tiny flutter of butterflies going through their stomachs. They begin to think: My God! It’s almost July already. Only 68 days until the first day of school.

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