Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day weekend: What an emotional roller coaster!

This Labor Day weekend is only the second one since 1978 and the eleventh out of my whole life that I am not preparing for school as a student, a teacher or a parent. I’m not checking out the clothes in my closet or my kids’ (they’ve been adults for years now and no longer require my fashion input) for that perfect and most crucial First Day Outfit. I’m not checking the tote bags in the entrance hall for the necessary school supplies. I’m not reviewing my teaching folders for syllabi, lesson plans and class schedules. I’m not fretting over whether BFFs will still be BFFs on Tuesday, or if the mean kids will infect my children’s happiness, or if I’ll encounter students so recalcitrant and so indifferent about learning that I’ll wonder why, oh why, I ever chose to lead a classroom. A feeling of having forgotten to do something but not being able to remember what it is has dogged my last three days.

Finally, in the middle of last night, I dinged onto the Why and What. I’m missing all of the anticipation, the anxiety, the fear of the unknown and the joy that always accompanied every new school year because I have always loved school…from both sides of the desk.

For the last few weeks, my daughter and her husband have experienced the gamut of school-related emotions as their daughters began third grade and kindergarten on August 27th. Last weekend, my granddaughters regaled my husband and me with a new school clothes fashion show. The eve of their first day, they chatted with me on the phone, enthusing about their teachers, how happy they were to reconnect with friends they hadn’t seen all summer and about their anxiety for the unknowns that they would face. 

While walking my dog, Tommy, these last few days I’ve talked with friends who have school-aged kids about the joys and sorrows surrounding the end of summer and the start of a new year of classes, teachers and homework. During lunch with a few old colleagues and through discussions with teachers still in the classroom on Facebook and in emails, I listened to their concerns about AYP, standardized tests and class schedules and felt their excitement, their passion for teaching and meeting new students. Do these situations cause a twinge of sadness for what was? Sure, but on its tail is a sigh of relief. It’s their time, now, and mine to continue forging the new pathways I began after I retired from the classroom in June of 2011.

Still, in every situation, my heart and mind echoed with the Battle of Emotions between the armies of Loss and Relief. The loss came from the fact I loved watching my children (as a parent) and other parents’ children (as a teacher) grow academically, emotionally and socially into responsible, reliable and respectful adults. Relief because I no longer had to worry about how to help them through rough times academically, emotionally and socially, or have to wake up way before dawn, face a mountain of papers to grade or a
classroom where students dared me to turn them on to the love of learning was welcome, too, though.

The bottom line is, I love most everything about school and always will. As a student, reading, writing, history, science, geography, art and music entranced me. Math? Not so much. I had a hard time caring about when Train A and Train B (both going at different speeds) would meet as long as I wasn’t on either of them. Instead, I’d imagine stories about the people on the trains. Why were they there? Where were they going? 

Were they speeding away from or rushing toward a destination? Did I cry in ninth grade when Pam and Franny decided that I was the third wheel and became BFFs? Sure. Did I learn about true friendship and loyalty when Bev and Linda, friends since kindergarten, welcomed me back into their circle without any questions or snide comments about my detour to PamFran land? I sure did. Did fear, anticipation, indignation, pride and angst vie for first place in my emotional closet? Sure. But that was all a part of growing up.

As a parent, did I shed tears, cloaked in the privacy of night, when my children were experiencing academic or social issues? Yes. Did I worry whether they would turn that big project for history or English in on time when they chose to chat on the phone or watch reruns of Seinfeld or Three’s Company instead of working? Yes. Did I lose sleep wondering if they would get into their first choice colleges? Yes, but I also loved seeing my children’s excitement when they were turned on to ideas and concepts that made them think, and when they realized that they could accomplish more intellectually than they ever thought possible. Only school could do that for them.

As a teacher, did my frustration level soar when I encountered students who felt they were too cool for school or whose sense of apathetic entitlement challenged my patience? Of course. Did the petty dictates of a few administrators puffed up with their newly awarded power cause nights of teeth grinding? Of course. Did I despise waking to the clanging of my alarm clock at 4:45AM? Of course. More importantly, though, I relished my students’ lively book discussions and celebrated their happiness when they realized that they could express themselves orally and in writing. Their confidence in their newfound skills and abilities not only warmed my heart but also encouraged me to create lessons that dared them to keep on reaching higher and trying harder.

So, am I missing all of the anticipation, the anxiety, the fear of the unknown and the joy that always accompanies every new school year? Yes I am, because I have always loved school and always will…from both sides of the desk.

Happy School Days,