If you’re not a student or teacher, this time of year might mean extra muggy and hot days and the hope of cooler weather in a month or so. It might mean another month for beach vacations and swim parties and grilling outside.
But if you’re a student or teacher around here, early August has come to mean the start of a new school year.
Summer, though still going strong with long, hot days for at least another month, is effectively over for you. You’re back to the daily grind of getting up early and being in your work mode and school schedule.
But what does back-to-school really mean for teachers?
It means a few prep days with workshops and presentations and something new for the school year. And those prep days include – if you’re lucky – some prep time in your actual classroom. Time for getting your classroom space feeling friendly and inviting, making it a space that encourages learning.
It means a pretty sleepless night before the first day of school, a night of tossing and turning as you go over and over your plans, as you wonder what your students will be like and what this academic year will hold for you, as you feel the excitement of a new beginning.
It means meeting new students, watching their faces as they enter your room, as they search your face (openly if they’re elementary school students, furtively if they’re high school students, something in between if they’re middle school students) to try to see what kind of teacher you will be, whether you and they will get along, whether they’ll really like and trust you.
You’ll meet somewhere from a dozen to 150 new students (depending on what you teach and what grade level), learning their names and faces, putting to use your mnemonic memory devices in hopes that you can learn those names and faces in a couple of days. Or a couple of weeks if you’re one of the middle school or high school teachers who has over 100 students on your rolls.
It means starting the year with a clean slate. For your students. And for you yourself.
You’re hoping that a few new strategies will reach those students for whom the usual teaching methods just don’t work.
You’re also hoping that your new strategies – strategies for taking care of yourself, for avoiding burnout, for getting the rest and exercise and nutritional food you need – will work this year.
You’re hoping that you will be more patient, more kind, more understanding, more aligned to what your students need – than ever before.
You’re hoping that your students will be receptive to you. That they’ll want to learn. That they’ll be able to learn. That their obstacles won’t be so big this year.
Though, honestly, you know that last one won’t be true.
You know that the reality is that – no matter whether you teach at a high-poverty school or the finest prep school – you will have students who have challenges, big challenges.
You’ll have students whose challenges will run the gamut – those who have recently had a grandparent or parent or other close loved one die, those whose parents are going through a divorce, those who have just moved from a known and beloved place to a place that feels totally new and foreign, those who have had a parent or significant loved one go to jail or prison, those who are caring for a loved one with lupus or MS or cancer or any number of debilitating diseases, those who have the responsibility for taking care of younger siblings or an elderly relative or even their parents, those who are dealing with some illness or disease or other physical or mental challenge, those who come to school hungry, those who live in a place without electricity, air conditioning, running water, those who have been bounced from foster home to foster home, those who feel tremendous pressure to be the best – the best academic achiever, the best athlete, the most attractive, the most popular – pressure that is too much for a child.
You know you’ll have students with all kinds of challenges.
And you might be going through one or two or three of these challenges yourself.
But you start the new school year with hope. Hope that you can meet these challenges. That you can overcome some of them.
And hopes that you can love all of your students. Even the most difficult ones.
Especially the most difficult ones.
I know you teachers will have challenges that you’ll have to meet this new school year. And I know it’s difficult to do that, to meet them all.
So I send ALL kinds of good vibes to you, my teacher friends!
To all teachers.
You do important work.
Work that is essential for our society. Work that is often pretty thankless. Work that makes a difference for us all – whether we acknowledge it or not.
Thank you for your long hours of work with our children. For expending so much emotional, physical, and spiritual energy for your students. For all of us.
Though I’m not among your ranks any longer, I know how hard your job is.
And I’m grateful for your dedication, for your love for our children.
Your impact runs deep. And lasts long.
You make a real difference.