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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Long Goodbye

Doug and I met in Alaska. We'd both went up there separately to teach. We weren't looking for a spouse, but we ended up connecting very quickly. We're both adventurous people, love to travel, and experience new things. After four years teaching on a remote island 160 miles off the coast of Alaska, 35 miles from mainland Russia, we were okay to move to Maine, where we own a house in Cherryfield. I grew up in this area and love coastal Maine. It has always been home to me. I missed seeing my family and having a place to call my own, so we happily began searching for jobs in this area.

Maybe it's something about us, but we laughed to find ourselves teaching on another island, this time off the coast of Maine. We came to the one room schoolhouse excited that we'd be together. I mean, really together. As in 24/7 together. Four years later, we're closer than ever. Four years later, we find ourselves ready to embark on a new journey. We're leaving Frenchboro. Moving to our house in Cherryfield, that has been mostly vacant for the nearly 6 years we have owned it, will be a big change for us. The biggest change of all will undoubtedly be that we will spend much more time apart than we ever have in our 7 years together.

Teaching together with your spouse gets a lot of raised eyebrows, mostly from people who think that would be their worst nightmare. Unlike many couples, though, we actually get along. We rarely quarrel and see eye to eye on most matters. In teaching, this is important, especially when it comes to classroom management and curriculum. Being out here, as the only staff members in our school, we talk constantly about what is happening and will happen and why. We try to keep things transparent for the kids. They deserve to know what is going on and how it will affect them.

So, it was difficult to not tell our students first, that this would be our last year. They are, after all, the reason we are here. Every decision is thought of in regard to how it might affect the kids. But, as professionals, we knew we needed to tell our principal and school board first, then the students. We weren't sure how they would handle it. We know how we feel about them, and we know how hard it is to leave them, but what will it be like for them? Many of them have never had any other teachers but us. Imagine that.

This kind of change is big for these shy kids. When we first got here, several of them would not even speak to us. Now, we know them better than our own nieces and nephews. They are, simply, like family to us. When we told them, they said nothing. You could have heard a pin drop. They sat in stunned silence. We told them if they needed to ask any questions or talk, they were welcome to but they weren't ready for that.

Several days later, the questions and comments started. Things like, "But you'll still be here in the summer...right?" No. "So you're selling your house?!" No. We don't own this house out here. The new teachers will be living there. "Oh." And, "What table will I be sitting at next year, Ms. Finn?" I don't know, buddy. You might not have the tables. You might have desks instead. "Oh." Then it was the Encouraging Words that we do every Friday. Usually they are to each other, but they started trickling in to us. "You are the best teachers in the whole entire world." "Please don't leave us." "I'll miss you so much when you're gone."

I can't rightly express how I feel about this group of kids. I know I blog often about how great they are. But that's not lip service. These kids have been an absolute delight, and continue to be. Just this morning, when asked about doing the dance, apparently called The Dougie, Seth, our first grader, started mimicking writing on the board. He said, "See, I'm doing The Dougie. I'm Mr. Finn, writin' on the board in Math class." Yes, my husband was called, to his great chagrin, "Dougie" when he was a child. Seth knows this.

Which brings me to knowing someone. Most teachers don't get to know their students like we know these guys. Spending so much time together (4,320 hours of classroom time plus the countless hours before and after school as well as on the weekends) creates such a bond of knowing. I've decided to do some blogging about the kids as individuals. I'm going to take time to share photos of them over the years, tell stories and what I know about them. They've really touched us forever, these guys, and I'm tearing up already, just thinking of the long goodbye ahead of us. We wanted to come forward early, as soon as we knew, so that we could give our school board lots of time to find a replacement, but also because we wanted the kids to have time to process and get used to the changes that are afoot for them. Just like all our decisions having to do with the school, we thought of them first.

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