Today was my last day as a teacher. At the type of school in which I have taught over the last seven years (large and largely dysfunctional), the end of the year is always anticlimactic. Things just sort of peter out over the course of the last week, and everything feels slightly dingy and blurry around the edges, with students straggling in and out of the building, usually not in uniform, returning textbooks, picking up report cards, and being yelled at by NYPD School Safety. On the last day, I always find myself in my classroom, wearily sorting papers and books to be packed away in the closet, my hands soiled with chalk dust and mouse droppings. Today was no different – there were textbooks to be stacked, files to be sorted and discarded, and leftover supplies (markers, stickers, transparency paper, scissors...) to be distributed among teachers who are coming back next year. I also have things I want to keep. Though I have spent most of my teaching career as an English teacher, I have been a Japanese teacher for the last two years and have amassed a small collection of things for the beginning Japanese student - picture books, drill books, magnet sets, etc. These, I thought, the baby can use when he gets older, so he can learn to read and write and speak Japanese with his relatives in Japan. My heart contracted at the thought of my tiny little baby being big enough to sort the magnetic letters and make words on the fridge. Neko – gato – cat. Inu – perro – dog. Simultaneously, the idea that my roster had suddenly dropped from 150 students to one made me feel not pleased, as I would have expected, but a little queasy instead – was I really doing the right thing?
Another depressing feature of the last day of school is the check line. Teachers, sweaty, hot, and irritated, line up, as though at a soup kitchen, to beg their summer checks from the payroll secretary. Today, when I got to the front of the line, I found that, due to some sort of confusion about my maternity leave, the Department of Education had elected not to issue me my summer checks – over five thousand dollars of pay, the sole reason I returned to work before the school year ended. I knew then that I was finished. There were still three hours left in the school day, but I entrusted my small pile of personal belongings to another teacher’s care, went downstairs, and walked out of the building.