The last week of school before the holiday break is like the last five kilometers of a marathon. The brain goes soft, the knees start to buckle, and you start to have visions that involve large wheels of French cheese. This year was no different. Students arrived each morning in various states of disrepair and were more interested in preparing for the upcoming concert and spending time in the freshly fallen snow than completing any unfinished assignments. It was a bit like herding crazed barn cats, but we made it through each day with only minimal bites and scratches.
There was something different this year – something I only realized later when I was at home tidying the kitchen, singing along to obscure records, and sipping Irish tea. While it was difficult to see anything beyond the next hour as the carnival ride of life whipped me around in a blur earlier that week, I realized that what made this year so different was the strong sense of community at Yaqan Nukiy School. Even though I constantly complained to my wife how exhausted I was (even foregoing the second season of The Crown for more sleep), I did admit that the continual efforts made by staff, students and families kept me sane and made me feel a part of something bigger than myself.
Focused only on survival, I didn’t learn about the office-decorating contest until the last day. I walked into one office to find it far from its normally chaotic state; it had been transformed into a cozy Whoville home straight from the pages of The Grinch story. The entryway was now a secret tunnel and the desk featured a faux brick fireplace around the computer screen. Apparently, the fierce competition was going to the next level when rumours flew that someone was requesting live sheep just before the judging was to take place.
While large staff dinners are not usually my idea of a good time – as I awkwardly avoid small talk and try to remember everyone’s names – the Lower Kootenay Christmas dinner was a warm affair and it was nice to see so many coming together to share a meal away from the frozen winds. The usually quiet band chief donned a Santa costume and played gracious host to all that had gathered. Even the silly parlour games, which usually drag on far too long, were short and sweet.
The last day was a final sprint across the finish line, and I fuelled myself on hot black liquid from a dented coffee urn in order to get through the Christmas concert. But I will give credit where credit is due. As much as I fretted about our eight minutes on stage, my students were wonderfully successful in providing just the right amount of comedic interlude. They returned to their seats with shaving cream in their ears, toothpaste up their noses, factor-10 hair-gel covering one side of their heads, and big smiles on their faces. All the stress and rushed rehearsals were worth it. I even had two students stay behind to haul supplies along the icy trail and back up to our second-floor classroom.
The rest of the evening was spent diving into a respectable stack of teacher gifts. Many of them mirrored the personality of the students and included a classic Best Teacher coffee cup (which I always appreciate), a ‘yard’ of M&Ms, a wedge of blue cheese, and a Star Wars lightsaber nightlight. It was the perfect mix.
Though I certainly experience day-to-day frustrations at work, and I prefer to eat my sandwich in quiet rather than the busy staff room where the microwave is constantly humming and the conversation often turns to the pains of childbirth (since two of the staff are expecting), I appreciate being a part of a school where the principal delivers cups of hot water with lemon and honey to ward off sickness, an education assistant makes Justice League-themed cookies with half a dozen of my students, and teachers are stoking the fire before a lesson in mindfulness at the outdoor classroom.
As much as I was looking forward to sleeping in, reading a couple books, writing lots, eating too much, going for runs in the middle of the day and reorganizing my sock drawer during the holidays, I was also looking forward to more field trips, science experiments, art projects, poetry analysis, dodgeball games and reorganizing my pencil drawer after the break.