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A Special Sadness: When Kids Say Goodbye to a Beloved Teacher

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I dreaded the end of first grade. Life without Miss McCarthy, my beautiful, kind teacher, was unimaginable. She had made me feel special, smart and laughed at my jokes. I adored her.

After a shaky start in parochial school kindergarten with the Sisters of Divine Providence (I had secretly rejoiced when I overheard my parents discussing how they could not afford to send me to parochial elementary school), I had blossomed in public school first grade. The panic-stricken, shy kid who had run out of the classroom chasing his mother on the first day of school had become an eager, confident student. All thanks to the divine Miss McCarthy. She had even chosen me to play the ringmaster in our class's circus show. Life could not have been better.

My first, best friends were two classmates -- George Wright and Mikey Andrews. There were no kids my age in my neighborhood to play with, so summertime would be bleak without my daily doses of George and Mikey.

I was desperate. I needed Miss McCarthy to be my second grade teacher... and my teacher in every grade thereafter. I thought about approaching her with this opening line, "Why break up such a successful team?" But I chickened out. Unfortunately Miss Christie would await me in second grade. An imposing, dour six-footer, she wore a hairnet encased bun, sported an enormous, shiny black mole on the left side of her chin, and saluted the flag much farther down on her chest than my cheerful Miss McCarthy. My carefree life was over.

The school year brings kids familiarity, predictability, structure and sometimes, escape. When it ends, it's often difficult for kids to explain their fears and worries about what lies ahead next year, especially when they're leaving a beloved teacher. For kids not only moving to a new grade but also to a new middle or high school, summer vacation may provide even more anxious thoughts and nightmares.

As summer moves closer to fall's new school year, these apprehensions may show themselves in a variety of displays -- moodiness, defiance, complaints of physical aches and pains, increased sibling fighting and regression. During the final weeks of school, parents are usually so busy arranging summertime childcare and kids' activities that they don't think much about how leaving their beloved teacher has thrown their kids into a vortex of sadness, fear and confusion.

If your children have suffered such a painful goodbye, you might consider saying something like this -- Are most kids you know really happy school is over and summer vacation is here? That's how I usually felt when I was in elementary school. But I can remember one year when I was about your age that I had a teacher I really, really liked. More than any teacher I had ever had. She was my favorite teacher. And some of my best friends were in her class. I didn't want that school year to end. I did not want to leave her. I was sad. Do you know what I mean? Don't worry if your children don't respond to you with an outpouring of sadness and a request for your help. What is most important is that you have named their pain. They know through your words, feelings and similar experience that you understand what they are going through. If they choose to speak with you about it, they know they may approach you with no worries of being judged "a baby."

Be aware that your plans for your kids' summer fun may initially be met with less enthusiasm than you had hoped for and expected. Give your kids some time to work through the initial stage of this special sadness. Help them however you can. And if they have a Miss McCarthy they are bidding farewell, help them write her a few letters this summer. Speaking from experience, I bet she will write them back and will always welcome their return classroom visits.

Did you ever feel heartbroken leaving any of your teachers? Let's share those stories.