My palms felt sweaty and my heart was beating a little faster than usual as I walked in class and said, “Fifth graders grab your notebooks and a pen, then follow me to the football field. They excitedly gathered their materials and skipped along to the field. My class captain boy looked up at me with a big smile and said, “Miss, I like when you take us outside to learn. What are we going to do today?” His happy little face made my heart feel even more ill because I knew that sweet face would be frowning within minutes and all I could do was force a fake smile while putting my arm around his shoulders withholding the answer. With each step further into the field, my heart sank deeper and deeper into the pit of my stomach. Today would be the day I would tell them. I had pushed it back for so long. I had to tell them in person before they heard it from someone else.
Since I have a very special bond with my class, I was worried about how they would take my decision and I tried to sound normal as I said, “Students gather around and sit down. I have an important announcement to make.” Now my heart was really aching and pounding more than ever. I took one deep breath and opened my mouth to speak, but the words were all stuck in my throat; the only thing that seemed to come out were the beads of tears falling from my glossy eyes. I hung my head low and I tried whipping the tears away, but it was useless because they splattered out like a string of pearls bursting on the floor.
The students were silent and stunned. There faces looked horrid, as they had never seen me cry before. My class captain asked in an alarmed and protective voice, “Miss, what happened? Tell us! Who made you cry?”
I took one deep breath and slowly said in a soft, low voice, “I’m ok. Everything is fine. I’m just really sad. As you all know I love each and every one of you very much, as if you were my very own children. I also love Chumey School and Bhutan too. I had a great year here. So it breaks my heart to tell you that I decided not to stay next year, I will be leaving Bhutan.”
They were shocked and instantly on the verge of tears. They shouted in denial, “Don’t worry Miss, we will call our government and ask if you can stay. We will go to the principal and tell him he must let you stay. We will even write to your government too. We will figure a way to let you stay.”
I softly smiled at them through my blurry tears and said, “I don’t think you understand. It was my decision not to stay. The government will let me stay, but I chose not to because I feel like I have reached my growing capacity at Chumey School and I can feel in my heart that it is time for me to move on. I feel a calling to do something different. I have decided to go to India to learn about Buddhism and meditation. I hope you understand.”
There was a moment of silence and then a wave of tears flooded the football ground as the girls openly cried and the boys tried to hide their glossy eyes. Suddenly they all fired an intense round of pleading bullets at me and I felt terrible as they begged, “NOOOOOOOOO Miss, please don’t leave us. You are like our second parent. You can’t go because no one will take care of us like you. Who will protect us? What about our classroom, it will turn ugly if you leave. Miss who will take care of the library? It will get destroyed. Please don’t go back to America. No America! I never thought that you would leave us. Miss don’t you love us...”
As horrible as I felt, I forced my tears to stop flowing and I held my ground, otherwise, I thought they were going to tie me up and lock me in a closet until next year. I said, “Everyone please try to calm down. I’m not going to America; I’m going to India for mediation retreats. Please understand that just because I am leaving doesn’t mean that I don’t care about you. It was a very hard decision because I love you all so dearly, but I know that it’s my time to go. Nothing in life stays the same and it’s our time to depart.”
|My Class Captains|
Their devastated faces seemed to accept it until one student announced, “Last night I had a dream that Miss was going back to America and I was crying in the dream. And now it looks like my dream came true. I was hoping that it was just a dream. I can’t believe your leaving. Please don’t go to America.” The students started to sob even more and they started pleading all over again, “Miss if you just stay one more year, then you can leave next year and we will let you go.” Then another chirped in, “No, please stay just five more years until we graduate from Chuemy. Please Miss then we will be as smart as class 20.”
I tried my best to turn the situation into something positive and I said, “Again, I’m not going to America, I’m going to India. I’m so sorry, but my decision is final. I have a feeling that we will meet again in the future, so please don’t be upset. Everything happens for a reason. I also have a very good feeling that next year you will get an amazing, new foreign teacher. The new teacher will bring new ideas to the school and teach you new things. You will love the new teacher and he or she will love you too. Also the new teacher might be feeling nervous the first week of school and since you already had a foreign teacher, you will be experts on how to help him or her. Who knows, you could get a teacher that is ten times better than me. Imagine that! So me leaving could be a very good thing. I want everyone to get excited about having a new foreign teacher.” (At the time, I didn’t know who the new teacher would be, but I have come to know her through emails and my prediction was true-she’s amazing).
The students were still reluctantly moaning and their faces were plastered with anxiety and heartache. I knew that I had to turn this day around so I explained, “I asked you to bring your notebooks because I wanted to teach you what I like to do when I feel sad; I like to write my feelings and thoughts in a journal. So today I want you to write about how you feel. Then I want you to write about what things you are looking forward to about having a new, foreign teacher. Please try to focus on the good that can come. Lastly, draw a picture that goes with your writing.”
As they wrote their tender feelings down, they silently bawled into their notebooks and the only sound I could hear were musical notes of sniffling noses. The football field felt like a burial ground. They wrote and wrote, drew and drew, sniffled and sniffled. Every once and awhile I could hear them whispering to each other about how to spell “America” in order to complete the sentence, “I wish Miss no go to America.” I think that after I told them I wasn’t going to stay next year, they weren’t able to hear the part about India and all they could think about was that I was leaving, which they assumed back to America.
After a long time of writing, I could see that the situation wasn’t getting better and the bell was about to ring for the next period. I didn’t want to leave them feeling blue and crying. I was still on a mission to bring a smile to their faces when I got a sudden idea.
“The bell is going to ring soon, so please close your notebooks. I want everyone to feel happy, so before we walk back to class, I need twenty-five hugs. Yes, everyone has to give me a hug. Who’s going first?” I demanded with lots of enthusiasm. It worked like a charm. Their faces turned into oversized smiles and they were giggling trying to decide who would go first. Bhutanese teachers don’t tend to hug their students and so this would be abnormal for them to receive a monster hug from a teacher. As a result, they were giggling with awkwardness.
Then one of my boys tried to be a joker and said, “Ok I’ll go first” but when I went to hug him, he pulled his hands together dropped to the ground and curled up into a ball so I couldn’t hug him. But of course a little laughing ball couldn’t stop me and I squatted next to him and hugged his rounded back while saying, “Ohhhh I love my Pema.” My students thought that this was the funniest sight they had ever seen and they all screamed in laughter, jumping up and down in excitement.
Every hug brought new waves of laughter and twenty-five hugs later there were no more tears. They went back to class with smiles, especially after I promised them an end of the year party. It was apparent that there had been a shift in emotions and for one of the last times I said, “I love you all! See you tomorrow!”
|Ice Cream Party!|
|Going away presents|
|Three cute cups! Thanks Girls!|
|More presents: scarf, card, mirror, jewelry|
The saddest letters they wrote in their notebooks on our somber day, but their writing is sooooo cute and I wanted to share how sweet they really are and to show how they couldn't understand that I wasn't going back to America.