Friday morning August 27, in the aftermath of Harry's decision, I found myself checking and rechecking the shelf in the K-1 classroom for the one remaining pile of books that marked the existence of my once-thriving class. Yes, Michelle's things still occupied her cubby space; but for her supplies and an ex-student's forgotten remnants, the shelf was empty. I sighed with nervous relief. My reprieve was only short-lived, however, for I needed only to have waited for Michelle's arrival to be told the full gravity of the situation. When her mom dropped her off that morning, she gravely informed my Korean co-teacher that this would be her last day. So Harry was right: Michelle did follow in her peers' footsteps.
We did the best we could to accommodate her last moments with us. Instead of being alone, she was able to join the girls of the K-2 class for lunch as a "new friend." I was more lax than usual in my classroom discipline and procedure. For our last "Reading Circle," we stayed in our room instead of going to the library as we had usually done. But somehow our efforts still felt like we were fluffing the pillows of a terminally ill patient, the news of her soon-approaching departure weighing so heavily. The heaviness didn't escape her, either. "Why only one student at ILS?" she asked solemnly as we read together. I still had nothing good to tell her.
Monday morning, August 30, felt like I had entered an entirely different school without Michelle there. By the end of the day, the PK-1 students had moved into the bigger, brighter, now-empty K-1 room, erasing any last traces of the old class even as their name stickers were peeled from the shelf. PK-1 now conducted all of its classes, including those combined with PK-2 and lunch, in the new room. As I walked out of it to get my lunch that afternoon, the swap still fresh on my mind, I was told by one of the PK students to "eat in the kitchen."
I wheeled back around to face the class, defensive and protective as if actually wounded. "We don't talk to Teacher Jennifer that way," I scolded, "because it hurts her." I turned his comment over in my mind as continued to the cooking room, fully aware that I was letting a five-year-old's words get to me. It saddened me that such mean-spiritedness could now occupy the same space that just a week earlier had been the backdrop for such caring and consideration from K-1.