The long Labor Day weekend has come to a close and for schoolteachers the fall semester will officially begin this week. Of course, the planning, decorating, and thinking about the year that will begin started long before, probably the week after school ended in June!
For my part, the summer has been busy with teaching. Still, the fall continues to offer that anticipatory feeling that I have always loved as a teacher. I looked forward to seeing my class list, and matching the lovely names to the lovely humans who walked through the door that first day. I think there’s so much serendipity in those lists and those chances we have with the kids we inherit. When I was teaching youngsters last, one child in particular stands out to me crystallizing this point. A wonderful sixth grader, Emily, made a last-minute switch onto my class roster before the year began. She was seconds away from belonging in Ms. Williams’s class instead. How could I have known then how grateful I would be to have this person in my class, in my life. She was the kind of kid you remember, and the kind of kid who helps you sustain your reason for teaching, beyond day one, when the joys of teaching seem (to me, anyway) so obvious.
So, so much serendipity in the connections and school communities made, especially in those transition years between schools when we know little or nothing about each child. I admit I am partial when I say sixth grade is the best grade, and for the sixth graders I taught that first day was especially filled with anticipation because it marked the transition from elementary to middle school. For students, surely, there is a sense of anticipation. When I ask students what they hope to find most in their teachers this time of year, answers usually take some form of, depending on how old they are, “I hope I get a nice teacher.”
While our students are holding out for the nicest of teachers, we have dreams of our own. For me, the first day of school means nearly anything seems possible, but I know that feeling is a privilege many of our students can’t afford. For those children feeling most vulnerable, we can help stave off fears by drawing a circle around our classrooms, and hopefully our schools, and defining precisely the values we hold most dear.
For me, that means respect for others in talk and deed, safety from all harm (physical, emotional, psychological), a relentless commitment to and modeling of disentangling reliable and factual evidence from propaganda, and discourse faithful to democratic and equitable principles that make up the foundation of what has been, in American history, one of the most democratic ventures -- the public school. At a moment in time when we cannot take “truth” for granted, we can ensure that some ground is not relative. Our classrooms may be one of the last remaining stable places, for both our students and ourselves. John Dewey said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” If we hold the line on values that make us considerate, collaborative, productive members of a democratic society in our classrooms we sow the seeds of a better life outside of our classrooms as well.
Wishing all teachers a first day filled with joy and anticipation and a year that lives up to all your hopes!
Jeana M. Hrepich
President of WLAC