In the blink of an eye, it seems, the semester is over and all of the kids are going home. My teaching obligations ended last week with the turning in of the grades and I have enjoyed the first of my six weeks off.
The kids still had to take tests this week, but as they wrapped their work up and packed to go home, their eyes gleamed with anticipation of their homecoming and a break from campus life.
The sophomores got to go home a few weeks back and only the freshmen remained, because they had started their semester later due to their military training. Somehow, when the sophomores went home I did not sense the wild anticipation and the excitement around campus that I feel with the freshmen. Maybe it is because the sophomores are old hat at college life, maybe it is because they are older and wiser than the freshmen. The sophomores did not express that they missed home or that they missed their parents. The freshmen certainly did!
As the week wore on and the kids dropped by my house in ones, twos and groups to say goodbye and wish me a good holiday, I experienced something I never thought I would feel: I’m going to miss these kids. They are so sweet and so young; their eagerness to please and their pride in having taken their first, fledgling grown up steps away from home left a deep impression on me; one I did not anticipate.
I have an almost maternal sense of protection toward these girls (and the few boys in my classes), which is really strange seeing as they are going home to their parents. But, over these last few months, it seems that I was the most approachable adult around, and they bonded with me. And I bonded with them.
Some of them told me of the problems they have at home. Others confessed that they knew they were going to be bored out of their mind, but what was their choice? They have to go home for the holiday. Stephanie confided that, since she left for college, she and her mother have stopped fighting. She wondered if the truce would last through the break or if they would start butting heads again once she returned home. Sasuke confided that she had tried suicide a few years back because of the problems she endured at home. That one was heavy! Martin told me about how his girlfriend, the love of his young life, had broken up with him just prior to leaving for college. Now he had to go home and face her again.
When they talk about their trials and tribulations at home, I am as open as receptive to them as they are to me in the classroom. My listening to them and talking with them seems to help them in some way. They get to unburden themselves and sometimes, if they ask for it, they get advice from someone they have come to trust. Most of the time though, they just want someone who cares to listen to them. I am honored to be that person.
Through their stories I realized that this is not just a gig for me. Not just a paycheck and not just a job. These kids mean something to me: when they look up from their workbooks, wide-eyed and receptive, I am compelled to offer them the best of my knowledge, to the best of my ability. After all, for these first year college students, I am a role model and an introduction to their campus life. I have made an indelible impression on them, much as they have made one on me.
The campus is now eerily deserted. The clacking around in the dorm upstairs from my apartment is now quiet, there is no clomping down the stairs at 6:30AM and no music playing for morning exercise. The school bells heralding the start of classes no longer ring every forty-five minutes. The low purring sound of plastic wheels on concrete trundles by as one of the last few lingerers leaves for home, pulling her suitcase behind her. The wind lows mournfully around the denuded tree branches in the park behind my apartment as though asking where all of the people have gone.
As I walk through this academic ghost town, my cell phone chirps. Another one of ‘my’ kids has just sent me a message, letting me know she made it safely home. Like others before her wrote, she cautions me to be safe and not get sick while she’s gone. Her message ends with ‘I miss you’ and ‘see you soon!’
How precious they are.