by Sam Nassar
He’s been here before, but never like this. The teacher looks into his webcam, trying desperately to conceal his sadness. It was a good group he had this year.
He looks at the camera, and doesn’t know what to say. Last year’s graduation was a blast. So many of the kids need adult role models, whether they know it or not. He hopes he’s been able to fulfill that role. By the end of the night he’s taken dozens of selfies and pictures at the students’ insistence. He’s shook a lot of hands and received a lot of thank yous. He smiles whenever he thinks of this, he must have done something right. None of this of course will happen this year. It can’t in the interest of everyone’s health and safety. He understands, he just simply wishes it wasn’t so.
Of course, the school will be having a virtual graduation and the principal has asked that all teachers submit a short congratulatory message to the students. This is why the teacher has been sitting in front of his computer for the last hour. He’s trying to figure out what he should say. He thinks about writing a scripted speech, but that doesn’t feel right. Cliché as it may sound, he’s decided to speak from the heart. But how to start?
He won’t see any of them, not to give them a final in-person blessing as they get ready for college or university. He won’t be there to tell them how proud he is of them, to joke with them one final time as he did so often all semester. For all the joking around, he was pretty hard on them. Essays, tests, not to mention the pop quizzes for consistent lateness. Sometimes he wouldn’t let them in right away when they were late. Maybe he shouldn’t have done that, maybe that was too harsh. He would push them, draft-after-draft, edit-after-edit. It didn’t always go over well. Some of the students thought it was because he hated them.
This is his job. This is what he does. If they weren’t worth it, he wouldn’t push so hard. He sees so many who want not only an education but a better life. Why wouldn’t he take that seriously? He hopes they understood that. Some perhaps won’t, and he’s okay with that, because he knows he played his cards right. But, for the students that did care, he feels cheated. Cheated out of the chance at simply saying to them ‘Good luck.’
‘Good luck. I wish you well. Yeah, you better make more money then me, why the hell did I spend all those hours helping you?’
He’ll miss them. They’ve made him a better teacher. He looks at the webcam, a dull unforgiving orb. He starts thinking about next year. Will it be like this? He has no idea. Nobody knows and that’s what’s so daunting, not to mention annoying. It shouldn’t be too much to hope for a future where he can properly say good-bye. Maybe he took it for granted. He never thought something as trivial as seeing another person could be a luxury. He knows he’ll take more time to cherish such moments in the future. Maybe there will be a day when he’ll get to see this year’s graduating class. Maybe some will swing by the school when the virus is yesterday’s news. Maybe some will stop by and tell him how college is going, to let him know they’re adapting to adult life, to let him know they’re doing well.
The journey has had the expected speed bumps, but nobody expected them to be like this. A once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic, they keep saying on the news. He knows things will change once it’s all over, but he hopes he’ll get a future where he can always say good-bye to a human face, instead of a lens. He hopes they get a future where they can enjoy college life as it’s meant to be enjoyed. He hopes they can soon live a life free of this threat as they enter adulthood.
The teacher gets ready to hit record. It’s just not the same. Things will of course continue to change, even after this virus is gone. He’ll deal with that, but he misses those moments: the barging into class needing help with an essay, the students collectively gathering for a final exam, friends trying to soothe friends, while others swagger it off. He always tells them they can do this and they’ll be alright. He never wants those connections to be lost.
A teacher reflects on the bonds and memories he has formed with his students as his class of 2020 prepares for graduation day.
--- Sam is a teacher, writer, stick fighter and frustrated Maple Leafs fan. His short stories The Dodo Initiative, Purple River, The Giant Wakes and Hockey Dad have appeared in the Spadina Literary Review online. Additionally, Sam has scripted multiple short films and skits, many of which can be found on the YouTube channel, Tower Films Canada.