The Back-to-School Parade!

This week I will begin my
sixth year of teaching.
My SIXTH!
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!
Onward!
So much Love,
Teach

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