Return Again: School Days!

This morning, there is a great return in the metro Atlanta area where I live.  It’s the return of hundreds of thousands of children and teenagers (and their teachers) to school.  Granted, for some little ones, this is not a return, but a beginning.  Even their beginning of pre-school or kindergarten means that they will be joining a return to habits and patterns of living that the whole culture around them supports, joins or even just endures at this time every year.

This return will mean very different as well as common things to people:  more traffic in pre-dawn hours; a surge in sales and purchases in stores; the setting of alarms to wake parents and children from their sleep; shifts in what happens to household monies–for fees, for lunches, for clothing and supplies; the afternoon and evening rituals or trials of homework; testing and testing and more testing; the return to old friendships and the beginning of new ones; meeting new teachers and learning how to work with them.  The list of the common things involving the beginning of school are almost endless, and much of the community around children and teenagers move into place to support this including a reminder of property taxes to homeowners as that is how we pay for public schools.

For many children, in fact more than half, it means a return to breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday which they may have gone without for the last 12 weeks while school was out.  For some children, it means a return to daily trials, from bullying to misunderstanding because of their religion, their skin color, their sexual orientation or gender identity, the way they speak and which languages they speak or don’t speak.  Tears will be shed in many schools today by children who may already be multi-lingual but who do not speak English yet.  The terror of first day at school for these children is particularly deep.  Imagine being thrust into a huge institution where you understand not a word of what is being said to you.  Imagine being the transgender child or teen who has to figure out where to go to the bathroom today and every day for the next 180 school days–or who decides simply not to use the bathroom for 8 hours every day.

As a teacher, I can tell you that I am excited about this great return today.  It begins my 27th year, and I still have the thrill and the joy of the first day back at school.  And, I didn’t sleep well last night (most of my colleagues didn’t either). All of us who have done this more than a few times know that we will meet students today who will challenge us, who bring things into our rooms that we know very little about.  We are anxious and nervous about whether we will be good teachers, do a good job, fulfill all that is required and meet these young human beings entrusted to us with compassion, expertise and wisdom.

This great return to school is important.  It will be life changing in many ways for all of us, students, teachers, parents and community.  At times that will be more poignant to some of us than others.  So, today, give a heart-nod toward this great return.  If you are stuck in traffic because of the great return, take a breath and whisper a prayer for us all.  If you are a tax payer with no other connection to schools than that yearly bill, know that you are making a difference.  And if you are participant in any way in the great return today, find someone else’s eyes and look into them with a smile.

Bob Patrick

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