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Haunted by the things my students will miss

By Susan Gianiodis

Ghosts have been on my mind recently, but not in the standard Hollywood way. Living with my 16-year-old daughter is in many ways like living with what the movies depict as a ghost haunting. I sometimes catch movement out the corner of my eye, and things are moved, or missing. Sometimes I will hear a loud thump from overhead, and many times a formerly clean space has been hit by what looks like a hurricane when I wasn’t in the room to see what happened. This kind of “ghost” is common in homes where teenagers live.

The other ghost story is a different kind of haunting, and the uneasiness and sadness is very real. As a teacher being around teenagers can get exhausting, and by the time spring break rolls around, I am more than ready for some relaxation. However, this quarantine is not like being on vacation.

The day before a typical break is a little chaotic in school buildings. It is louder than normal, and there is an excited, happy atmosphere that permeates the building. School being cancelled because of Covid-19 could not have been more different.

The last day teachers were allowed in the school the building was like a ghost town. Social distancing was in full effect and there was no talking, laughing, or visiting. The atmosphere was sad and fearful; the hallways still and silent. The school year being cut-off in such an abrupt way does in some ways feel like death, and certainly like a loss. I am saddend that I did not say goodbye to my students, or to most of my colleagues.

I think about the stacks of packets and the next book for each student ready to be handed out, my plan book filled with lessons, activities, and chaperoning duties. All these plans are obviously cancelled and serve as a reminder of what is missing. I think about the student athletes who are missing out on their season, and the stands that are empty without their proud family and friends cheering them on.

I think about how I will not be chaperoning the prom, and will not see the excited faces of the students who have looked forward to that event for years. Many people cherish their yearbooks because they contain a record of these memories. One popular yearbook tradition in my school is called the senior superlatives. These much anticipated awards will not be given this year.

These things may not be that important in the big picture, but high school milestones such as walking the stage at graduation are a rite of passage many look forward to and many will now miss.

It is a different kind of haunting, and the ghosts that linger are the unfinished business and traditions of a typical school year. There are letters in my cabinet that students wrote four years ago. At the end of each school year I have students write a letter to their future selves. I ask the students to make predictions, set goals, discuss who they are, what they feel strongly about and what they hope for. I save these letters until their senior year, and then mail them home. When the students get them they are so excited. A couple of times the valedictorian and saluditorian have mentioned the contents of their letters in their graduation speeches.

I am saddened that I won’t be able to talk to the seniors about their letters. I am even more saddened that my current students will not have the opportunity to write their own, and it haunts me a little.

Susan Gianiodis, of Orchard Park, is haunted by the memories that won't be made.

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