The Back-to-School Parade!

I love parades! This one was in Boston, where I almost lost limbs from hypothermia.
This week I will begin my
sixth year of teaching.
By the end of this year I
will have taught around seven hundred students.
Graded 56,700 papers.
And gone through
approximately nine trillion boxes of pencils.
Every year it still feels
like I’m brand new. I wonder if it’ll always feel this way. It’s similar to the
way I would imagine it would feel to send my child off to kindergarten and
being very confused since I had only given birth to him a few weeks ago.
(That makes it sound like I
actually have a kindergartner. I do not. Moving on.)
But the beginning of this
year feels extra weird, for lots of reasons. First, I’m at a new school. That’s
always an interesting transition—meeting new people, forgetting their names
immediately, trying to expose my weirdness to people in increments as to not
overwhelm them, etc. It’s stressful, but I already love my new school. Truly,
madly, deeply. More on this later.
Second, this is my first year
at a non Title-I school. If you’re just now tuning in, you can check out my thought process about that switch here. A teacher I talked to who had also
previously taught in Title I schools said to me, “You know, I think the hardest
thing about the switch for me was that I realized I was no longer needed.” I’ve been
thinking about her words a lot.
Third, I’ve been feeling lots
of feelings. With the rest of the country this summer, I’ve been watching the
explosion of interracial hatred and fear and violence and have been thinking a
lot about how we see that in education. I listened to this profoundly moving episode of This American Life about low-income schools, and have been reminded again how
deep our racist roots as a country run, and how we are trying to do everything but admit that, and how the education gap will never be closed until we do.
But mostly I’ve been thinking
about a teacher I know who was recently diagnosed with a rare and aggressive
brain tumor. He was my geography teacher my freshman year of high school. I’d
had great teachers in all the schools I’d been through, but there was something
that really set him apart. High school kids are not always easy to love, and
this teacher acted like it was the easiest thing in the world, like there
really was something special and unique and awesome
about each of us. He was unbelievably funny, but never at the expense of
others. And he loved teaching. I remember him tearing up during our Holocaust
unit, and the reverence he had when he taught about world religions and
cultures different from ours. I’ve 
mentioned his influence several times in the writing of this blog—the trashketball game, among others.
There aren’t very many
answers right now about his diagnosis, but from what I know he remains
positive, gracious, and grateful. He’s even starting a new school year tomorrow.
When I think about this
teacher, I weep. I weep out of gratitude that I grew up in a place with access
to amazing teachers like him and so many others. I weep because so often I get
it wrong as a teacher, and he got it right so often that I can’t even remember
a time he got it wrong, and if this world was fair, even a little bit, people
like me would have to carry these kinds of burdens instead of him. I weep
because I have a natural tendency to think the worst about things, and I worry
about his family and the community that joins me in caring about him.
But all is not lost.
I’m not sure that I believe
that everything is a carefully-crafted plan, but I believe that everything is
redeemable. That the direction we’re headed is one in which goodness will
eventually win. And so, when I think about my teacher, and the racial struggle
that is keeping so many people in our country down, and all the other things in
our world that are unjust, I think about what I can do, which is to cling to hope, choose kindness, embrace
challenge, and love people the way my teacher did and does.
I hope I remember those
things more and more every day as I approach this new year.
So, friends, here’s to
2015-16. Here’s to marching into unknown territory with Goodness as our drum major,
with confetti cannons blasting and our band jamming out to T. Swift. Here’s to
leaning on each other when we’re hurting, and here’s to laughing in the face of
DEVOLSON*. Here’s to treating each kid like they’re our favorite, and here’s to
hanging up our problems outside the door of our classrooms, and here’s to
loving so fiercely and with such abandon that one day someone will weep out of gratitude
for us. Here’s to moving mountains, and to all the metaphors I’ve just mixed in
one paragraph.
Let’s do this thing!
Onward, edusoldiers!
Or marching band players!
Whatever we are!
So much Love,


*DEVOLSON = The Dark, Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November


  1. Jennifer Reynolds

    I am marching right behind you in your new school year parade. Last week we had four days and this week we have five. Second grade may be a wild rollercoaster ride this time around, but my 24 years of experience will hopefully serve me well. I plan to have 28 "favorites" this year!
    Stories and Songs in Second

  2. Lisl Christie

    Yes!! Thank you for your words of wisdom. I love the thought that "everything is redeemable." I just started my 13th year of teaching primary grades. After the first six years or so, I no longer felt like a newbie, but the feeling of hope and anticipation and anxiety at the beginning of the school year will never go away. At least, I hope not!

  3. Monica

    Good Luck to a new school year, everyone!!!! I'm going into my 9th year! Woo Hooo! I find I am no longer having "Back to School" Dreams- the ones where school has started and I'm completely not ready or I have a class of wild and unruly kids that I can't control. I'm not as nervous as I was before- I like that!

    What a beautiful reflection on your teacher. Best of luck to him and those who love him. May others be touched by his beautiful personality and teachings as you have.

    I also listened to the episode of This American Life, and I truly feel that it reached me at my core. My daughters are starting school this year- Kindergarten and Pre-K. I realized that when I would talk to my neighbors about where they were going and where their kids where going- many people chose to send their kids to Catholic school or use a relatives address to get them into a "better" school- when what I realized that was code for a whiter school. Now, the district we live in is in shambles- much like the Normandy district that was covered in the podcast, so I do understand that parents want a better education for their children- but when they verbalize it- it's more about the students that are there and not the institution itself. The main idea, if you will, of the episode was that the main way to improve low-income schools is to de-segregate them which also got me thinking of my neighborhood. I live in a mostly white neighborhood, yet the public schools in the area are mostly non-white. It is a direct result of what the episode talked about- this area was never intentionally segregated, but more and more (white) parents started pulling their kids to go to Catholic/Private/Charter schools. I guess it just hit me so hard because of being a teacher, my daughters starting school, and it happening right in front of my face.
    We are also in the process of moving which I feel this episode has moved me to look into areas that are more culturally/economically diverse that we were previously considering. I grew up in a lower middle class area, and I remember when I got to college, I was much more open-minded about different races and cultures than some of my peers. I want that for my daughters!

    I had to get that out! It's been on my mind since listening! Thank you for your insightful words on teaching and life. I'll be looking forward to more! Here's to a great year!

  4. Hillary

    "Here’s to treating each kid like they’re our favorite, and here’s to hanging up our problems outside the door of our classrooms, and here’s to loving so fiercely and with such abandon that one day someone will weep out of gratitude for us."


    I'm going to use the "This American Life" episode as a teaching resource in my majority-white, very conservative school this year. Wish me luck?

  5. Ingrid

    Have a great year! I know you'll work hard and do great work. You'll learn new things about students' learning and teaching, and be a better teacher for it. In my 45 years of teaching, I looked forward to each fall's new class and learned something important every year. The more I learned, the more I loved it.

  6. Jessica

    I apologize profusely for the rant/cry session that is coming below. Before I begin, congratulations on your 6th year of teaching- I know that you must inspire all your students, and you definitely uplift my teacher-y spirits when I listen to your blog. Now, for my rant..
    I listened to the American Life episode. It breaks my heart the way the parents at the snobby district react to children, underprivileged children, moving into their school district. "Are there going to be metal detectors?" This is utterly heart-breaking. It hurts so much to think that our racist roots run this deep, to think that parents would want to keep children, children from other families, on the other side of the bridge.

    This last week was my first week at a new school district. My principal and I went to neighborhoods to make home visits and deliver invitations for a school event happening prior to the first day of school. I just moved to this new state, from New Mexico. The majority of these neighborhoods looked like the kind I had grown up in, and even the ones I had recently moved from to come here. My principal was RELUCTANT to go to some of the homes in this area because they, from her perspective, looked dangerous. To me, they were like home. She spelled out her concern for the children that came from these neighborhoods, that they were in families that didn't care, families from poverty, that they would be better off if they lived where she lived. I think this colleague of mine has a beautiful heart, and genuine concern for our students. But I had never thought that the places I had lived until recently, were filled with bad families and situations. I never felt that racism really existed, because in my town and school and even in my university, white and Mexicans blended together. I knew we didn't have tons of money, and that was okay. I knew I got a less than perfect education, because my district was unwilling/didn't have the money to get us textbooks that were newer than 10 years old, but I had some amazing teachers who made up for it all. We didn't have segregated classrooms, because everyone was mostly mixed Mexican and White, though it's true that the families with the most money had students in AP classes. Despite that, I had never once felt disadvantaged. And in that car ride, my heart broke, thinking of the students I had last year, who, in comparison to the neighborhoods around me, really had it bad. I'm talking dirt floors, no electricity, raised by uncles and aunts, or living in homes with other families. I cried and cried. And here, as Americans, we say, "let's raise our achievement gap! Let's have everyone be successful so we can be a great country! But, let's not let them cross the bridge, let's make our start times earlier, so they WILL CONTINUE TO GO TO AN UNACCREDITED SCHOOL, SO THEY WILL CONTINUE TO HAVE FEWER OPPORTUNITIES THAN MY OWN KIDS." I am not a hateful person, but I feel hate for the way those people treat those children. This is the blacks on the bus can't get to the special white beach all over again. This has made me realize that racism still exists. And maybe not even racism, more like, wrong-side-of-the-tracks-ism. I felt a little disingenuous when I went home to my 500 square foot house in the midst of a gang neighborhood that had electricity and tile floors, while my students went home to gang neighborhoods, and in some cases, without tile and electricity. But I felt that I at least knew them on some level, we had shared similar experiences, and therefore, I could be mostly genuine when I told them life gets better, and you can make yourself rise above these situations.
    This American Life opened me up in a painful way by showing that our world will never get better until we start looking out for other people's children as well as our own, and ensuring we all get opportunities.

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  8. Leon Freeman

    I get it wrong as a teacher, and he got it right so often that I can’t even remember a time he got it wrong, and if this world was fair, even a little bit, people like me would have to carry these kinds of burdens instead of him.

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