I love living my life by the school year. I mean I love school. A brief history of my life goes like this: elementary school, junior high, high school, college, 3 years in the “real world”, masters program, doctoral program, professor, masters program, elementary school teacher….So for 3 years of my adult life I wasn’t in a school living by a school year calendar. Three of the not-so-good years.
And it’s not because of the breaks and summer. Just to clarify, most teachers I know, the really great ones, work way more than 40 hours per week. I work even more because I’m a workaholic. Summer is only 2 months, not 3 (kind of like pregnancy is 10 months, not 9!) and we spend at least half of the summer packing from the previous year, writing curriculum for the next year, and setting up our rooms for the new year. There is also a mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual meltdown after the last day of the school year that takes at least two weeks of recovery. I’m not complaining, just stating the facts. So, no. It’s not about the time off.
I just love the circle. I love how there is always a fresh beginning each year. When school starts in the fall, everything is possible. Kids will learn to read, artists will be discovered, young poets will write their first poems, architects will be born in the block area, you will finally know exactly the right things to say and do at exactly the right times. Whatever happened last year is done. Everyone gets a fresh start.
Then there is the fall when the 20 young and 3-4 older personalities will come together and spend 8 hours per day in the same small room. Friendships will be made, conflicts will arise, laughter and tears, and a family will emerge. There will come a day early in the school year when I will say to one of my students, “There is nothing you can do or say that will make me stop loving you.” and another day when I will say to the class, “Look, this is our class, we are all going to be here all year. We might not all like it, but we are a family and we are going to take care of each other, and that’s the way it’s going to be because that’s what families do.” Usually there is a day at some point mid-year when I will say, “Everyone listen! Tommy (or fill in any boy’s name) does not like the haircut he got and he doesn’t want to show it. He’s going to wear this hat and anyone who touches it or takes it off of his head is going to be in big trouble. We are going to respect Tommy’s choice to not show his haircut. Is that understood?!” And slowly, but surely we become a family, as dysfunctional as any family.
Then there is the first snow and it usually happens when we are inside and doing something “quiet”, but being the Texan that I am, I’m the first one to scream and we all run to the windows and watch the first snowflakes. Whatever we were doing becomes significantly less important than reading Ezra Jack Keats’ Snowy Day. Everything is magical for the rest of the day because of those snowflakes falling outside.
There is Christmas and all the holidays which give us breaks and markers throughout the year. And we all need breaks from each other. 25+ personalities all living and learning together…most people have no idea…
The winter is the most productive time. The children come back from winter holidays looking taller and knowing more. Suddenly they can do things they couldn’t do two weeks before. And then the winter continues. The adults and children trudge to school weighted down with several pounds of boots, wool socks, long johns, sweaters, flannel-lined pants, coats, scarfs, hats, mittens, and backpacks. By the time we get to school and get it all off, it’s time to put it all back on again for recess…and it is COLD. It is cold and yet I am sweating. And if your teacher is from Texas AND entering menopause, you might have to wear your coat all day because she has the air conditioning on! Winter becomes dull, grey, and gloomy.
Then Spring! And we write poetry. We grow butterflies and Morning Glories. Everything and everyone feels lighter and brighter except those oh so rainy days. Many, many canceled field trips, rescheduled over and over again due to rain. Then we go to an all school picnic and we run in a field and call it field day. Then the year winds down. I assess them all and we have all grown in so many ways! There are successes and there are disappointments. There is frustration and guilt for the child I just couldn’t reach, the one I never figured out. We are tired of each other. Tired of each other’s faces and the sounds of each other’s voices. Parents are done with me and I with them. But there is love and there is music and singing on the last day. And we all cry and hug and say goodbye. It is an ending and endings are just as good as beginnings.
Then summer. And whatever failures I may imagine are washed away. I have learned and know better. My successes are mostly not even known to me yet and may never be. I sift through papers, most of it going in the trash, except for those few pieces going into the back of the file cabinet, in the folder marked “momentos.” A few pieces of stray art work, go home to grace my walls. And before I leave the building, the school secretary puts my next year’s roster in my mailbox. The list of names representing a new beginning, magic that is yet to happen, lives that will become entwined with mine in ways that I cannot imagine.
And I love it. I love it all. Forever in school.