I don't know of too many other professions besides education in which there is a beginning and an end, every single year. You may be able to think of a few (tax seasons starts and ends, etc.), but not in the same way that educators experience it. Having so many friends and colleagues in the world of education (from student teachers to elementary, middle, high teachers, college professors and beyond), I am acutely aware of the "new beginnings" that happen around this time of year. Yes, for some of you in the Northeast, it won't happen for a bit longer, but here in Tucson, students went back to school last Monday.
I have so many great and nervous memories of starting school as a child (we moved around a lot---when the rent went up in the apartment complex my single mother had rented for us, we had to move again). Would I make new friends? Would my teacher be nice? Would I have to walk home from school by myself? These (and more) were the questions I always asked. When I became a teacher, the questions were no less frightening and exciting at the same time: Would I get a student who was too tough for me to handle? How would I form relationships as soon as possible with the parents of my students? How could I best collaborate with other teachers in the school if I was the only special education teacher there?
Now, after being a teacher, guidance counselor, principal, professor, student teacher supervisor, and consultant for so many schools, districts, and universities around the globe, I find myself just a little bit jealous of those who are in the classroom, getting their rooms ready, meeting parents and students, and reconnecting with their teammates with whom they will collaborate throughout the year. I have so many great memories of those first few days of school when I was a principal at the best school in the world (I hope and pray everyone thinks their school is the best school in the world, by the way). Watching the school buses pull up to the bus ramp was amazing, as they unloaded students who I mostly knew (so we did a LOT of hugging), but also meeting the new ones who were shy and wondering all those questions I had wondered as a kid, myself. One of the best parts of that day, though, was walking through every single classroom to meet the new students I hadn't met at Open House, and to welcome back every student and every teacher. The only way to get to know the Kinder kids, in my opinion, was to go in and read a story to them or to bring in one of my puppets who would tell them about some of the rules of our school. Melba the Mouse would tell them in a high squeaky voice, "EEK! I am very scared of loud noises, so could you please make sure you use soft voices in the hallway." Libby the Lab would tell Mud the Chocolate Lab to quit making messes, and if there was trash or a mess somewhere, we should just clean it up instead of always expecting our custodial staff to do it.
I would get to know those students by name, because I learned a long time ago as a guidance counselor who had "hall duty" between every passing period, that saying, "Hey, hey, hey, you need to walk in the hallway" had much less effect than saying, "Jeremy, come here. What did we talk about the reason we need to walk in the hallway?" Relationships matter to me. Why in the world wouldn't they matter to our students? One of the Kindergarten teachers who taught with me when I was a principal (who has long since retired but her legacy of reminding me of "Mother Earth, who would gather all the woodland creatures around her" will live on forever) used to say to me within the first day or so, "Oh my...this class is the toughest class I've ever had. I'm afraid they are so immature, they will never learn what they need to learn before the end of the year." I made a deal with "Rina" (pseudonym to protect the innocent): no comments like that until the first month has passed. Why? Because, inevitably, by the first two weeks, she had totally changed her tune. They were now her babies and she was going to prepare them for 1st grade, no matter what! And you know what? She and the other amazing Kinder teachers we were always blessed to have at Edge did the exact same thing---transformed those babies (and truly, some of them seemed little more than that) to reading, writing, math and science-loving students who thrived in a challenging learning environment.
If ever you want to see some amazing teaching in action, I have several suggestions for you, as I have been blessed to be able to roam the country and beyond to walk through classrooms and watch captivated students learning about fractions, history, experiments, choral concepts, and so much more. But if you happen to be in Niceville, Florida and run across Edge Elementary School in Okaloosa County, you might just give Dr. Samantha Dawson (the current principal) a call and see if you can get a tour. It's a pretty special place.
Praying for all teachers and students who are headed back to school and hoping that everyone remembers that our students come from such diverse backgrounds. As one of my participants in a workshop in Las Vegas last week said, "Because we all have such different background experiences, each of the 37 of us in this room are likely to take away something different from the work we have done today. I think that is like the students we teach, and we need to remember that." Amen to that!
Have a blessed school year, and don't ever forget that students will not care how much you know until they know how much you care.
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