September is back-to-school month. Granted, some schools begin earlier; but in all my learning and teaching life, school bells rang for the first time in September.
From my first day of preprimary at St. Charles Grammar School with Sister Roberta Marie until my last day at Nauset Regional Middle School, I have always loved school. I even played school on the front porch in the summer with dolls, animals or neighbors as my pupils. Our next-door neighbor was a teacher and I wanted to be just like her.
As a student, school was always a happy place for me. I was a good student, and I was recognized for my academic achievements. At that time, I didn’t realize there were students for whom reading and learning did not come easily. I could read before I went to school. Listening to directions and following them in a quiet, precise manner presented no difficulties. I was a docile, shy student whose favorite pastime was reading, so I sailed through elementary school without making a ripple.
My own student experiences did not in any way prepare me for the role of helmsman on the ship of education which was berthed at Pittsfield High School in the far-off days of double sessions. Barely four years older than my charges, I stepped into my first classroom with more energy than skill. I learned along the way. I was soon convinced that I was where I was supposed to be: in a room full of eager students. No, they were not all eager; but I was ready for the challenge.
Time marched on. I moved to different cities and new schools. Over the years, I taught and learned with students of every educational level — from ungraded, nonreaders to community college entrants. Teaching reading is a special gift because you see the eyes of children light up when they finally “get it,” whether the “it” is sounding out a word, reading a paragraph or retelling the plot of a story. At the end of my career, I taught writing, too, sharing another of my special loves.
Every fall, I miss buying school supplies. There is nothing like a box of freshly sharpened pencils or a pristine composition book. I miss being among a group of colleagues who are excited for a new class of kids, who go from being unknown faces to becoming “our kids” at least for a brief time. I miss seeing students grow and change, and being a part of that magic. Teaching in middle school, my students taught me lots of things. I knew all the latest music, movies and trends. I learned how to recognize the signs of depression, and when kids hadn’t taken their meds. I always believed in the future.
Now, I don’t know a single popular tune, or what kids are watching on TV or on their cellphones. I’ve lost my lifeline to what’s important to students heading for school this month; but I’ve never stopped caring about school kids and their families.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to start school, seeing a roomful of masks covering the hesitant smiles of a new class. The specter of COVID still haunts the halls and cafeterias. Students and teachers alike have been badly frightened and it will take time to build relationships based on mutual trust and respect. Fear and anxiety inhibit learning, so it’s going to be an uphill climb for some students to get back into the school routines and focus on educational outcomes.
I also believe kids are resilient, capable and full of energy. Working together with lots of support from home, staff and students will craft a community of learners who can reach the goals set before them with determination, strength and kindness. From the sidelines, I’m cheering on each and every one of you.