Yesterday, I cried in front of students.

We were preparing to do morning announcements. Two eighth graders came slightly early, while I was backing up my old Mac before wiping it clean. While waiting on the rest of the crew to arrive, they looked over my shoulder.

I was, at the time, backing up the precious pictures that I had amassed in my six years at the school. Something in the folder caught our attention, a slideshow called “Goodbye Eighth Graders.” As the yearbook adviser, I usually throw together a photo montage of the graduating class throughout the years at the school. We play it at the 8th grade graduation, and everybody cries and hugs. It’s almost a tradition.

Usually the slideshow loses its effect sometime after the new school year starts, so I figured we were in the clear. I had no idea which year this was from, but figured it was from long ago, since it was on this dinosaur.

I didn’t realize it was from last year.

This summer, our school suffered a devastating tragedy, as one of our students was taken from us just a week before starting high school. He fell ill suddenly, so it was a shock to us all. Throughout the years, I had seen him grow from a mischievous little third grader to a brilliant young man, an emerging leader.

This was understandably tough on everyone. The staff learned of the news right before students returned, so we were able to get our tears out among ourselves, and be almost stoic for the children who needed us. I attended the candlelight vigil and the funeral to support my students, although I did not want to go. Funerals make things real. More than anything, I prayed this was a nightmare from which we could all wake up.

In view of my students, I was a rock, a shoulder to cry on. I would not let them down when they needed me. But in private, I was a mess. The school where I teach is a K-8, and I had gotten to know this student very well, having taught him for five straight years. However, in some way outside of even my own comprehension, I was able to repress my grief and start the school year, albeit a bit rockily.

Yesterday, once I hit play and realized the slideshow was from last year, I knew what was coming, but I couldn’t look away. It was like a deer in headlights.

Once his unique smile lit up the screen, I felt the tears coming, but tried to hold them back. One of the students noticed that I was getting emotional, so I turned away and walked towards the door to try to compose myself.

The next thing I knew, I found myself being hugged very tightly, which turned the silent tears into audible sobs.

Last week on Voxer, a member of my PLN said that just as we are there for students, sometimes they can be there for us. I’ve never felt it more than in that moment.

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