There is something sleepy about June that makes us linger. Everything is a little hazy and sticky and we pause, sad and confused, when we realize everything is about to change. For so long we’ve counted down to this moment – Summer! Freedom! Bigger and better things! – but now that it’s here we want more time. And so we rebel against the changes by holding on longer, hugging tighter, smiling more. We deviate from the lesson plans and admit to students how tired we are, because, by this point in the year, they understand that teachers are humans too. We stroll slowly past the neighborhood gardens, fire up the grill, and sit awhile. We make ice cream the priority of the evening, pushing work aside until later because we will be tired anyways – so why shouldn’t we stay up and cherish each other’s company while we can?
As a student, the end of the school year used to make me think forward – pool parties and summer (debate) camp, or being one step closer to vacation, turning sixteen, leaving for college, getting that internship. But now it makes me look back. Which kids did I fail? Where could I have done more? How could I have been better? There is a book called Among Schoolchildren and it’s about a year in the classroom of a 5th grade teacher in Massachusetts. I had to stop reading it when the days were short in February because her struggles were my struggles and it was giving me nightmares about homework and standardized testing. But the chapter about June, about the sleepy smiles and sweaty sneakers, resonated in the deepest part of my tired teacher heart. “She belonged among school-children. They made her confront sorrow and injustice. They made her feel useful. Again this year, some had needed more help than she could provide. There were many problems she hadn’t solved. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. She hadn’t given up. She had run out of time.”
June is for graduations. Nostalgia, tears, and click-clacking suitcases along uneven paths. I was lucky enough to go back to India and see my favorite humans graduate. Four days was not long enough for all of the hugs I wanted to give and the conversations I wanted to have. How do you make up for a year of lost time? Their voices were deeper and their legs were longer, but their smiles were the same. We sang, laughed, cried, and swapped stories with our fingers and chins sticky from mangoes. I left almost as soon as I had arrived – my suitcase lighter, my heart heavier, my hands painted.
We have five days of school left. How did that happen? Where did the time go? My Match 5th graders are going to middle school and my Shanti Bahvan 11th graders are two weeks into their first year of college. Sometimes I feel silly calling students ‘mine’. They belonged to me so briefly, so incompletely. What claim do I have to them? Do they know how completely I am theirs? Does being a teacher mean giving away 25 pieces of your heart every year? Maybe that is why teachers need summer. We need eight weeks to recover and rest – letting our hearts grow large enough again for the fresh faces we’ll meet in September. Maybe I am being overly romantic, but it is June.
Sometimes it seems like there is so much hate. So much killing. So many guns. So many things happening to so many people across the world and in our own backyards. So many things that don’t make any goddamn sense. All I want to do is hold these children close and keep them here. Here in this place where we anonymously write nice things about each other in our sweltering, safe classroom. Where I have nothing more important to do than help seven beautiful young women blow-dry their hair as they get ready for commencement. It feels good when you can get out all of the tangles. Because too often, we can’t.
Many people find it easy to imagine unseen webs of malevolent conspiracy in the world, and they are not always wrong. But there is also an innocence that conspires to hold humanity together, and it is made of people who can never fully know the good that they have done. – Among Schoolchildren
June could be regret and it could be hatred. Or June could be love. Love for community and children and hope and innocence and change. It doesn’t matter which kind of love. Because, like Lin-Manuel Miranda reminded us, love is love is love is love is love.