Ending is such sweet sorrow

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I cry multiple times over multiple days during the last week of every semester. Occasionally there are tears of frustration (I mean, come on, how come you don’t remember the six lessons about plagiarism??), but mostly tears of joy and sorrow. The joy of impending downtime and the sorrow of leaving my students behind pull heavily at my heart.

In the first week the semester I ask my students to address me in a formal manner: Mrs. Buccelli or Mrs. B. Some stick with simply Buccelli, and that’s okay, too. I acknowledge that it sounds like we are in grammar school, then explain that I will become very attached to each of them, and this is my way of setting a healthy boundary.

During a normal semester, if they are late for class, I make sure that someone checks in via text because I worry they are “dead in a ditch somewhere.” We might even resort to a phone call in the middle of class if we are really worried. I sincerely care that the adults in my room have a space to feel safe and cared for while they struggle to move beyond the fear of looking stupid or failing in their first semester of college. Before long they are sending me emails or messages through their classmates about their absence or tardiness.

This year has been especially difficult for so many obvious reasons. Yet, the students persevered.

Many disappeared over the last several weeks, and I worried and reached out, but some needed to pull so far back that they couldn’t respond. Others admitted to struggling with family or financial or mental health issues.

This week, as I read the final reflective papers of the ones who managed to stick it out, I am moved to tears over and over again, one student at a time. I’m crying now. This has been one of the most difficult and challenging semesters in the 13 years since I started teaching. We have all struggled with the online only platform, and unlike the K-12 system, we don’t require zoom meetings. When we did have an opportunity to see each other on a screen, it was such a relief!

In their final reflective papers, they are asked to look back at what they learned, how much their skills expanded and how they managed to overcome academic challenges in the midst of a pandemic. They also wrote about their struggles with time management, online learning and even their mental health. Each one moves me to tears. As always, as much as I gleefully anticipate the end of a semester, I am sad to see it when it finally arrives, so I am crying more than usual. Romeo famously said that “Parting is such sweet sorrow, That I shall say good night till it be morrow.” In our case it’s the end of much more than just an evening. We don’t yet know when or if we will meet in person; this ending is such sweet sorrow, sweeter and more sorrowful than usual.

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