I have always loved getting ready for the first day of school. There is nothing quite so wonderful as wandering up and down the aisles of Target with a school supply list and choosing just the right tools for a successful academic year. Binders and dividers or pocket folders? College or school ruled? Mechanical or wood? Crayons or markers?
As a child and as a teacher, I felt the same eagerness for the first day, carefully preparing and arming myself for the new year. There are few things that match the promise of an empty spiral. Clean and neatly rowed. Waiting for the thought that will transform it.
The fall semester, though, quickly became as dog-eared as whatever paperback I was nearly always carrying during my secondary days. And even as a teacher, the reality of raising other people’s children takes the shine off the apple well before the first quarter is over. But I still love the preparation and that first day is still able to push my buttons in ways that seem almost archetypal.
Today was my first day back since I went on leave last April, and it was the first time it seemed like a job. Maybe that is what happens when you hit your twentieth year, but something tells me this is not a rite of passage that all teachers pass through. It’s me. I have changed. I am not child-like anymore.
That part of me that has managed to retain the sense of giddy anticipation I have always felt in Augusts past has finally lost its innocence. And I don’t know if I really need it to teach well. But I am afraid that I might and that another nail has been driven. Priorities shift with time.
The teacher I work with has the days to the end of the year already counted. 291. Took me a little by surprise, so perhaps I am not a completely lost cause. However, as I stood with my colleagues waiting for the yellow buses to take us from our first day meeting site back to our building the fact that I was not a part of any of the various configurations and cliques around me didn’t cause me even the slightest bit of discomfort.
Last spring, at one of our last in-service days, before I went on leave I hovered on the edges wishing that I was more than just casually connected with the others and today I didn’t care. That’s a true first for me. I have been dissatisfied with my profession, my assignments, my students, the way I taught, but I have never not cared about not really belonging.
The first day of school has always ultimately been about finding someones to belong with and the place where one best fits in. Maybe it is a good thing that I don’t want to fit in anymore. Change is as good as it is inevitable.