Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The First Day of School

As a former teacher and prinicipal....and for that matter,  student....I miss the sounds of "the first day of school"...squeals of recognition, the clatter of books falling from lockers, the roar of a hallway as students hurry to the next teacher while still connecting with friends they may not have seen since before the summer sun turned their hair blonde and their skin bronze, the unique quiet of a high school when classes are in session....and somewhere from the dark recesses of my memory is the sound (and smell) of the mimeograph machine cranking out stacks of worksheets....and the color of purple....everywhere...

Today as three of our children dressed in outfits that were carefully chosen (well, at least for our elementary school-age twin daughters) and laid out the night before on top of invisible people at end of their beds and with socks tucked into new shoes peeking out from the dark regions beneath the dust ruffle, I was reminded of all the years when I had the privilege, as principal,  of being that first handshake that greeted each student at the front door of the school at the dawn of a new year.

I think, though, that my favorite moments were as a teacher waiting just outside the classroom door for each youngster to find their room after looking on the bulletin board outside the main office for their class assignments.    "I got Miss Davis....I got Miss Parker....I got Mr. Burns"  you could hear them shout to one another as they passed in the hallways making their way to a year-long destination they would come to know as well as the route from their own front door to their bedroom at home.  I would keen my ear to hear the first "I got Miss Clark" and my heart would leap at the sound of my own name and the way it was said, by a second grader...with her parent in tow, making their way to my room. 

Anyone who thinks that the first day of school only provides a heightened sense of what to (or not to) wear on the part of students... has never been a teacher.  We are not only thinking about what skirt to put with which blouse, knowing that this is the mental photograph of "Miss Buchanan" that little Laurie will take home with her tonight and carry around for 40 or more years...just the way we have done about Mrs. Kearns from Kindergarten in 1959....but we have an entire classroom to dress up.

Where do we put the weather bulletin board?  Where will we read outloud to them for quiet time after recess each afternoon?  What will we write on the blackboard on that first morning.  Do I write my name before they arrive and have it there
or do I write it as I introduce myself to the class?  Will we have Harriet the Hamster there on day one or wait for the unit on nocturnals later that week to bring her in?  Do I start out with bulletin boards on "What we did this summer" or do we head into the "Fall Harvest" right away.

These are the surface questions that have poked at me in the middle of the night for weeks by the time I am standing in that doorway waiting for my new best friends to arrive. 

On a deeper level I have been pondering how I am going to receive them mentally.  Am I going to "remember" that Johnny had a problem with anger management on the playground last Spring or am I going to greet only the sweet boy I know that His Father-Mother God (and his mommy and daddy) see him to be.  Will I anticipate the need to break up the clique of 5 little girls who only play with eachother on the playground every year or will I see, coming through the door, in-clusive, generous, open-hearted ambassadors who themselves are eager to greet a whole new group of friends and make them feel welcome.  Am I going to see myself as Miss Blake the teacher who
always goes over the top for the annual art show (as if it is a reflection on her own creativity and sense of organization and style) or am I going to let myself grow more generous and flexible and see this year's art show more fully represent the breadth of creativity and individuality brought by each member of the entire faculty and student body.

We each prepare for the first day of school on so many levels.  Parents work all summer to find the courage to let another "grown up" become important in the life of their precious new Kindergartner.   Administrators pray through class assignments, teacher/assistant appointments, and budget allocations.  Teachers grapple with learning and teaching modalities that will best respond to the unique needs of the children entrusted to their wise discernment, school bus drivers get a good night's rest and yearn to feel the peace of knowing that every turn, every stop will be governed by and guided with a divine hand.  

And students....students
hope.  They hope that this year they will, as one child recently said to me, "....find out I am smarter than I remembered to be last year".   They will hope, and hope, and hope.....that they will have friends, that the teacher will call on them, that they will have become stronger at kickball, that they will not be asked by the music teacher to "mouth the words" (this summer alone I heard from five grown ups that they had experienced this as a child and didn't sing outoud for decades because of it)....they will hope that their handwriting is posted on the bulletin board because it is so lovely, or that the boy with the locker next to hers will be kind and not tease her because she wears braces.  They will hope that their teacher will see how hopeful they are.

If there is one quality I think is most present in the hallways, classrooms, gyms, lunchrooms, auditoriums, and playgrounds on the first day of school it is hope. 

So today, as I cherish "the first day of school" from my office I will pray that hopes are realized.  That hope springs eternal, that hope is NOT  just the absence of apathy, but the presence and power of the Divine pointing the way towards what our all-powerful God is promising to each of us for this year. 

May every "first day of school" hope be fulfilled by the presence of goodness, grace and affection....with the gifts of intelligence, flexibility, joy, appreciation, thoughtfulness, strength and purity.

I can't wait to hear how your "first day of school" went....everyday this year!


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