I said goodbye to my kids today. Come Monday, the teacher I’m replacing will be back, and I’ll be introducing her to my classes and then stepping out to leave her to it. They’re moving me into another room down the hall, where I’ll teach sixth graders. I’ve just begun to get the hang of 8th graders. Sixth graders are going to be a whole new species of animal.

So each period I stood at the front of the class, and waited for silence. Normally I slice through the hubbub with razor fierceness, demanding absolute compliance from my students. But today I had no voice, having lost it last night. So instead I just waited, and eventually the kids subsided. Especially in the later periods, when word had already got out.

And then I told them. I only managed to get in about five word each time before they erupted into protest. I kept my face severe, but felt something twist inside me as they yelled out. It hit me how much I was going to miss them. I’ve been teaching these 140 kids or so for about five months, and by this stage I feel like I’ve finally got to know them. I’ve earned their trust, their affection, or at least become a tolerable evil. Either way. Saying goodbye was a lot harder than I had thought.

Two petitions to keep me were begun, and by the end of the day the students had got over 150 kids to sign them. Apparently they’d dragooned kids who weren’t even in my class to sign. Several kids promised me that I’d be back as soon as they’d taken care of the returning teacher’s knees. A handful of the girls actually cried and my 4th period tried to give me a massive group hug when the period ended. I found graffiti scratched into a desk, cussing the returning teacher out, demanding that I stay, and had to listen impassively throughout the day as they demanded better reasons for my leaving.

But it wasn’t all about my ego. We’ve got–I mean, they’ve got–two weeks till the FCAT’s. This is crunch time. Most of my kids in the Regular classes are finally beginning to believe they can do well. I’ve got one kid who’s failing all his other classes. He has a B in mine. He’s finally applying himself, pushing himself. Today, when I gave out the assessment tests through which the new teacher will gauge the kids, he just sat there. Stared at the ceiling. I walked up to him at one point and asked him what was up. Nothing, he said. Do your work, I told him. Ok, he said, and when I walked away, he looked back up at the ceiling. I checked his workbook after he handed it in; he’d written nothing. He was the most dramatic example, but I could see all the inroads and trust I’d built with these kids already beginning to evaporate.

But what can you do? I’m replacing this lady who’s been out recovering from surgery since October, but it’s her class. Her contract. She wants back in, she gets back in. Doesn’t matter what the kids think, or what I want.

After my sixth period had left, I slowly walked up and down the aisles of my class, straightening the desks. I picked up books that were on the floor and slotted them under the seats. I wiped off all the graffiti my kids had written on the white board declaring their loyalty, and then spent some time cleaning out my desk, tidying my papers, preparing things for Monday. Then I stood by the door, looked at the large, empty room, killed the lights, and left.