In the early light, is there anything that holds more promise than a school building? Students arrive via bus or car or bike or foot, teachers too, all bringing a tangible energy, filled with all the opportunity in this day. I always smile driving up the hill to this grand building, the original section completed in 1928. I have spent nearly 3 decades working here, discussing story and craft and everything in between with students from 9th grade to 12th. This year that hopeful energy is even more palatable, because we are back full-time and in-person doing whatever is needed to keep our community safe, even graciously donning a mask. Heroes if you ask me as sacrifice has become the norm.
In the few minutes before the halls echo with laughter I ready myself for the bustle that is my nonstop schedule. I too am masked, which is an adjustment as I spend much of these first weeks at school doing most of the talking. But we do what we must, remembering this is not about individuals but about our larger community. Thankfully, in this school, that ideal has always been a priority. In our small way I know we are preparing students to face the challenges they will inevitably face once they step out beyond these walls. I am certain they will remember how we came together and did so with caring attention for all of us. After all, what is more powerful to teach than compassion?
This year fear once again creeps along the hallways too. Caution moves within so many of us walking these stairwells. Uncertainty leads to timid social interactions and halts open exchanges. You see it in furtive eyes and in the distance many always keep. There is no doubt that whatever mark COVID leaves, it will be more permanent than we want.
But as I look around my classroom, I am buoyed by the desire to learn. This impulse to rise up and push through and share this experience is a powerful distinction for this new generation. They take the “restrictions” in stride. They are mostly vaccinated or will be when age restrictions drop. They believe in tried and true Science. In human kindness. In cooperation as a way of life. And when I ask them to define what makes a society, it is those qualities that float to the top of our discussions. Together we dive into story and investigate all the struggles found on the page. At the end of my work day, I am exhausted, but happy. What a privilege to inch our way through so many discoveries.
There are always expectations for a new school year. This time around being safe, undoing their anxiety about the current situations, keeping the class laughing, making sure they feel the love, and yes, sharing some truly powerful stories will make up my daily class checklist. At least that is what I will remind myself to do each morning.
Hang in there my fellow teachers. We got this. For those driving by, wish us well.