Hold Tight. Let Go.

A red balloon bounced in the air above my head as I held on tightly to its string. We dodged white crepe myrtles, bicycles, scooters, skipping children, and dogs of all sizes on the school sidewalk. Once through the double red doors, we made our way up the century old steps, and into Room 204.  Safe. I tied the balloon to the back of a chair and stood at the door, ready to greet my children one last time. The bell rang and in they came.  There was delight in the red balloon and elation that it was the last day and, yet… there was a tinge of sadness, too. The year had been a good one.  And while we all looked forward to summer, we knew that something special was ending.  Good morning hugs lasted a little longer than usual.

We were ready for this.  Throughout the year, we talked often about finishing well with our writing pieces.  Lately we’d talked about how to finish this well, our year together.  Once June came, we struggled for a metaphor for finishing well.  We talked about how our third grade had been like a balloon that grew bigger and brighter with each experience. And we talked about our options:  we could let the balloon pop or we could let the air fizzle out or we could tie the balloon tightly, and then, let it go.  For our class there was only one choice.   It meant not packing up too early.  It meant teaching and learning right up to the end. It meant sticking to the routines and honoring the rituals that had been carefully built over time. Our challenge and our opportunity was this: to tie things up beautifully, to let go gracefully, and to finish well.

On that last morning of school, I took the children downstairs to the library to show a film. The balloon came with us. As we watched The Red Balloon, I asked them to notice.  I asked them to notice which colors were used, and which colors weren’t. I asked them to notice the music, the angles, the facial expressions, and the silences. I asked them to notice if the music guided their predictions. Did it build suspense? Did it affect mood and feeling?  When it was over I asked what the movie was really about.  This was comfortable conversation for my third graders—this is the talk of readers and writers.  It is a conversation that is built and sustained with time. Hands went up quickly. They said the movie was about loneliness. Bullying. Friendship. Staying strong. Letting go.

We untied the balloon and walked outside together.   We walked to the middle of the playground and gathered around the red balloon.  “Everyone hold on to the string.”  They did.

“Are you ready?” I asked.

“No,” they said.

We laughed.  It wasn’t supposed to go that way.  I tried again.

“Hold tight… now let go.”

I watched their fingers unfurl. We let go with open hands and up went our red balloon. It went with our named joys, hopes, and gratitude.  It didn’t pop.  It didn’t fizzle.  It didn’t get stuck.  It floated beautifully, glided gracefully, and sailed towards something new.  And Mrs. Campbell’s third graders finished well.


About Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell is a National Board Certified teacher and loves her work. After a forty year career in the classroom, she continues to support teachers. Annie enjoys cooking for family and friends; she likes to lose herself in a good book; she loves discovering new ideas, restaurants, perfect picnic places, and movies with her husband, Ben.
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11 Responses to Hold Tight. Let Go.

  1. Nita says:

    What a glorious picture you paint with your words, Annie. Tears welled up in my eyes as I imagined those moments with you and your students.
    Those children are forever changed because you invested deeply in them. They will always remember Mrs. Campbell in Room 204.
    If only all children could be touched by a teacher like you.

    • Lloyd says:

      A wonderful piece of imagery. The voice of the piece sounded strong and hopeful (towards what the students learned throughout the year), but also sad since your class was leaving you.
      I also loved the part of the students sharing their opinions of the film, The Red Balloon. I think sharing one’s opinion is very important.
      The last thing I noticed and loved were the vivid verb in the
      second to last sentence…”floated…glided…sailed. It seems that not only was the balloon going off into the unknown atmosphere, but your students would be too. Your students would float, glide and sail into the next chapter of their education.

  2. Beth says:

    Oh, Annie. What a blend of emotions you offered in that story. You had me in tears by the end of the first paragraph. The power of well-placed words. Thank you.

  3. Mallory says:

    I volunteer with Comfort Zone Camp and at the end of every camp we have a balloon release. The children can write a message to their lost loved on and attach it to the balloon and send it off. While reading this piece I found myself thinking of how it loosely compares to the kids at camp. Your students were using the balloon to symbolize finishing out their school year and letting it gracefully come to an end. These kids at camp are using the balloon to symbolize letting go of some of the hurt and pain and loss of a loved one. Funny how a balloon can be such a strong symbol for letting go. Just the simple act of watching it float slowly up and up, father and farther away. The farther it goes the more seperated we become from what the balloon represents. Well written, very beautifully done.

  4. Lloyd says:

    I love the metaphor “our third grade had been like a balloon that grew bigger and brighter with each experience.” The imagery of that phrase makes me think of how much knowledge your students have gained while being in your class. I also like how the balloon “floated beautifully, glided gracefully, and sailed towards something new.” This line makes me think of your students and how they will continue on with the lessons they learned from you into the fourth grade. I wonderful piece of writing. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Brenda Eaves says:

    You more than finished well…spectacular!

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Miranda told me she didn’t let go the first time. : ) So sweet and I’m so glad she was there for that last day with you.

  7. Antionette says:

    The descriptions of the scenery in the story Hold Tight. Lets Go, has tasty imagery and metaphor examples. I also noticed a one word sentence that is interesting.

  8. vcu2edu says:

    I enjoyed this writing piece. You incorporated lots of imagery throughout the story. I could imagine the red balloon floating through the sky. I love the sentence “Our challenge and our opportunity was this: to tie things up beautifully, to let go gracefully, and to finish well”. This sentence not only applies to the students but life in general. I experienced lots of emotion through the story. I had tears knowing something was coming to an end. Also joy when the balloon was released and the class finished well. I’m sure your students will never forget that moment. Whenever they see a red balloon they will remember Mrs. Campbell’s third grade class room 204. Great story!

  9. Molly says:

    The imagery in this piece is amazing! I can picture everything – the white crepe myrtles, double red doors, century old steps…I feel as if I’m a child in the classroom tagging along! The ending gave me chills, because I realized it is something that is experienced each year by all teachers, letting go gracefully. It’s happy and it’s sad – bittersweet, and the best stories are! I love the metaphor the children used to describe the end of their year. Thank you for sharing!

  10. Emily says:

    Not only is this post absolutely beautiful, it gives me hope. A few hours ago I wrote a post about my very first goodbyes (I’m a first-year high school teacher) and how I struggled a lot this year with letting go. I had such wonderful students in all of my classes, plus I had made the decision to move back to my home state after just one year, so the goodbyes with my sophomores were especially poignant. It’s comforting to know that after all of your years in the classroom, you too experience sadness. In my post I questioned whether it was a sign of a job well done, a year well-lived…I think you just answered my question.

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