I have always loved this time of year. Even when I was a child, the first cool morning of fall would give me a little jolt of adrenaline and a sense of excitement.
September has always meant a new start, a fresh page, a magical chance to start over.
When I was a teacher, I loved going back to school because it was my opportunity to do everything better. Every September for almost 30 years, I’d look back on the year before and think to myself, “Why did I do it THAT way? I’m so much better at this now.”
As a classroom teacher, I loved that first day of school so much. OK, truth to tell, I kind of hated the first day for teachers, with its endless meetings, reams of new mandates, and last minute decisions.
But the first day of having kids in the classroom? My favorite day of the year. I loved so many little things about that first morning with my new group.
I loved the fresh, clean popsicle sticks with the kids names on them, placed carefully in a red cup marked “Attendance”. I loved the jobs chart on my wall, with the list of chores that each child would do for the current week.
By the first day of school, the classroom would have been scrubbed clean by the custodial staff. The floor would be gleaming, the rugs cleaned. My white board would be pristine and the shelves completely free of dust. Plants, pictures, books and supplies would have been arranged carefully to create a welcoming space. My desk would have a picture of my kids and little gifts given by students of the past.
The best part of my classroom, to me, was our “meeting area”, a section at the front of the class where the kids and I would gather every morning to greet each other and plan the day. I had a heavy wooden chair and a pillow for my back, but I often sat on the rugs, elbow to elbow with the kids. Every day, after lunch, I’d read aloud in the meeting area, while the kids sat or lay on the rug. They often snuggled up together, resting a head on a shoulder, or even on a friend’s lap.
I loved their closeness. I loved their innocence.
Our classroom had a science table where groups of kids could look through microscopes, measure and weigh items, grow plants or observe living creatures in tanks. It had a library filled with small squares of carpet and a cozy bean bag chair. There was a big art table with materials for working on whichever art project the school’s fabulous art teacher was integrating into our curriculum that month.
I loved the part of the day when we had “rotations”, with groups of kids moving together from one activity to another. I was able to work with small groups of kids on math or literacy while the rest of the class was reading a book, making art, or maybe doing a science activity.
I loved my classroom. It felt like home, especially when “my kids” were there, gathered around my desk to tell me something funny, or huddled in the back of the room to share some gossip with their friends.
I miss that. I miss the first day of school excitement, and the way that everyone in the room was on their best behavior, me included.
But this year everything is different.
I’m retired now, with no more classroom to set up. But my daughter and so many of my friends are going back this week. Back to a new world of teaching.
This post is for them.
On the first day of school in September of 2020, Covid 19 will have changed everything.
This year there won’t be any carefully labelled popsicle sticks for taking attendance. There won’t be any clusters of desks pushed together to make cooperative groups.
This year teachers won’t be allowed to have their private chairs set up, and kids won’t ever be gathering on the rug. Nobody will be hugging or resting their heads on each other’s shoulders.
This time around, kids won’t be able to easily read their teachers faces, because those faces will be hidden behind masks. They won’t be able to see each other’s smiles.
On the first day of school in 2020, classrooms will still have books, but kids won’t be able to relax on a beanbag chair with a favorite story in hand. There won’t be any cooperative groups or any art area of the room.
Instead, classrooms will have rows of isolated desks, carefully separated. Some schools will have physical barriers, made of cardboard or plexiglass, trying to keep the children in their own space.
I understand how necessary all of this is. I am in awe of the educational professionals, both teachers and administrators, who have spent all summer desperately working to set this all up in the face of constantly shifting facts.
Children are resilient. Children are outrageously courageous and mostly flexible.
But this year is going to start out in a way that is foreign, isolating and sad.
My heart and my hopes go out to everyone heading back to school. I hope you can back to sharing a big box of leggos with your best friends. I look forward to hearing about group projects and book groups.
Mostly, I look forward to the day when morning meetings will be able to happen on the rug, and everyone will be able to sit together to play a class game.