The transition from the end of the summer into the new school year has never been my forte. As a child, I would lay in bed awake the night before the first day of school nauseous with nerves. You never found out beforehand who your teacher would be, you just got who you got and hoped they would be nice. They weren’t always nice. I had moved into public school for second grade after starting out in a religious private school with uniforms and uniformed seating. Our desks were lined up in such a way that you weren’t close enough to any of the other students and could only look straight ahead at the teacher. When I walked into my new classroom in the middle of second grade I was amazed at how alive it was. There was color everywhere, on the walls, the clothes of the children, and the desks were set up like tables so that we could all face each other. My new teacher, Mrs. Lee was a tall African American woman with the friendliest smile I had ever seen. She was the sweetest welcome into a new school year that I ever had.
It went downhill from there. I had a pretty mean third grade teacher who would tell some of us, myself included, that maybe we belonged in the learning disabled classes, whenever we didn’t understand something right away. She taught the class how to macrame that year, and I just couldn’t grasp how to do it. She wasn’t patient enough to teach me, so I just sat there while my classmates all completed complicated looking hanging pot holders. She wasn’t nurturing, kind, and I didn’t get much out of that year except lower self confidence. In fourth grade, I had a better teacher, except once in a while out of nowhere she would scream at us. It began happening more frequently as the winter approached and shortly after that many of us began learning the smell of alcohol and that our teacher smelled of it many mornings. Eventually, she was let go, but it was almost the end of the school year by then. She could really startle the class, and it was pretty sad that we had an alcoholic teacher, but she was still better than the one before her in third grade. She was actually a good teacher when she was sober, and the class was all in it together. She didn’t single anyone out the way the third grade teacher had.
I got a nice teacher in fifth grade but I think I was pretty shaken by then. I hated when summer ended, because it would mean that all freedom, and fun must be over. When some kids got excited about going out to buy school supplies, I dreaded it. It felt like the beginning of a ten month academic prison sentence. Despite my protest each fall, I did have to attend school. I didn’t like it, I didn’t want to go, but eventually I got used to it. I was never a great student, but I was social so I made friends and had fun with them. I made it through all twelve years and even graduated college. I wouldn’t say it was the life changing experience that it was for some, but I did it.
As a mother I have gone to great lengths to make sure that my children’s education will be a positive experience. Starting with preschools, I researched obsessively and spent an unhealthy amount of time learning about the many different philosophies and styles of preschool teaching. I thought maybe if I didn’t choose the right fit for my child that I would set them off on the wrong foot academically. I snapped out of that mindset one day when I took my toddler to the local park and saw a lovely group of teachers playing with their students at the preschool set right there next to the swing set less than a mile from our house. Friendliness, happy children, and convenience won out and we had two beautiful years at that school. We moved when my son started preschool, but I learned by then to use the same criteria when looking for a place to send him. His preschool was set on the same campus as my daughter’s elementary school and we were all happy that they were together. We chose where we wanted to live based on what area within our price range had the best public schools nearby. I involved myself, maybe a bit too much, in their elementary school, and with the exception of the post Covid year, elementary school has been a wonderful experience. It gave us a community of people who we now consider close friends, it introduced us to pretty incredible teachers, resulting in both my kids getting a great education and leaving fifth grade with a sense of self esteem I couldn’t have even imagined when I was their age.
Tonight, on the eve of the beginning of Middle School for my son, and tenth grade for my daughter, I want to wish them both a wonderful year. Our once sought after school district has had a bit of a bumpy ride post covid, but there is so much good worth fighting for, and so many new principals and people in new positions that it is promising. We almost pulled our daughter out of the high school last year in hopes of finding something better, but no place we looked didn’t come with its own new set of problems, so she stayed. It wasn’t perfect but she did so well and accomplished so much. My son who starts tomorrow at a huge public middle school wishes he could attend his elementary school for one more year first. I have the same wish, but there is no getting off this moving train and they have to grow up, even if I don’t want them to. He is nervous, overwhelmed and unclear as to how it all works. My single one and only goal for the evening is to not pass on any of my anxiety to him. It is to remember, and to remind him, that this feeling of being afraid is temporary. He will be confused and lost the first few times he tries to find his classes, and that is okay because he won’t be the only one new to the school. He will be uncomfortable with what he needs to remember, who he needs to remember, and where he needs to be. I will remind him that discomfort will go away as soon as he gets used to being there, and that in time he will adjust. I will remind my daughter that high school feels like the most important thing in the world to her right now, but that it isn’t all of who she is. No one finds high school easy, and that she has navigated it with grace so far. I will remind them both that no matter what happens at school, their home life will not change. We are here to let them be heard, hugged, and helped whenever they need it.