This year it all started with the first back-to-school commercials on July 17 along with multiple community collections of school supplies for distribution. A few weeks later, 4-H and FFA kids from all over the county flocked to the area between Henry Street and Powell Avenue to display the results of a summer’s worth of labor. But now with the grandstand sitting empty and the midway a mere grid of asphalt paths, we all know – with nary a glance at the calendar – it is time for school to start!
As usual, the actual day and time vary from district to district. Three of the county school systems officially open their doors tomorrow, while the other two have chosen September dates to begin the new academic year.
But this is my bittersweet season, when an entire lifetime of school experiences shows up kaleidoscopically in my mind. Tiny tiles of memory gather as I view already-posted Facebook photos of my “greats” down South, posing with year-and-grade signs. Recollections rearrange themselves into long-ago pictures of the Scott girls heading off to Concord with school supplies for an entire year tucked into cigar boxes – except for new Golden Rod tablets filled with yellow pages as yet untouched by any similarly-hued Ticonderoga pencil.
Other jumbled recollections pop up in no predictable order: memories of the school bus meandering between cornfields vie for attention as do images of spelling words written in yellow chalk on real blackboards, while a few bars of the school fight song can raise goose bumps of Falcon pride at any time.
There are college memories, too, of move-in days at dormitories and syllabus distribution in lecture halls…a campus springing to life with returning roommates and long lines at the bookstore.
My most cherished memories, however, are of the more recent kind, from my teaching years. At first reluctant to leave the lazy-hazy-crazy days of an all-too short summer break behind, the days of August regularly found me in my classroom, plotting out the upcoming year in general and the first grading period in detail.
Those late summer days were a tangle of gradebooks and texts, teacher meetings and in-service, bulletin boards and forms in triplicate. I never felt completely ready without decorating my door, arranging the desks, checking class lists, connecting the dots of the nitty-gritty of a new school year until…
They came! The students arrived, swooping into the building, bringing life to newly-waxed hallways and animation to classrooms as we faced each other in anticipation and expectation.
It has been and will always be the kids I miss from so many years of teaching. I have yet to think wistfully of my gradebook or with nostalgia about monthly faculty meetings. But I do long for the days that somehow stretched into forty years of precious time spent with young people.
The longer I taught, the more I treasured our time together. I learned that the nature and quality of our relationships most certainly transcended any lessons I might present about irregular verbs or paragraph development.
I have long subscribed to the roots-and-wings philosophy of working with kids, even in the classroom: it was important to ground them in subject-matter basics as well as to direct them toward self-sustaining life attitudes.
But I recently ran across an intriguing statement by Doug Larson, a Wisconsin newspaper editor, who encourages: “Be a weed,” which he defines as “a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.” This concept seems somehow related to the age-old expectation that children should learn to color neatly inside the lines.
Coloring skills and row growing, to me at least, suggest just one part of the educational process. Taken only at face value, lines and rows almost echo the current standardized-testing mania apparently designed to produce a generation of Stepford children.
In addition to helping students learn the basics of multiplication and Ohio history, however, I think we need to encourage and inspire them to discover and develop their own special talents. It is important our kids feel comfortable expressing appropriate weediness in their young lives, that being a weed need not detract from their overall sense of self.
Just as thought-provoking in terms of school lessons was another passage: “Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives…help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life…the joy of tasting apples…to cry when pets and people die…the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand…and make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself.” The author, William Martin, offers ancient Chinese principles as advice to modern parents – and, by extension, to teachers.
I hope I sufficiently challenged and encouraged my students during our 185 day-by-day ordinary experiences each year. I hope they learned that simplicity can be breathtaking, that learning and life are filled with tiny moments that can accumulate into the marvelous, the momentous. Such lessons, wherever and however learned, provide the groundwork for extraordinary lives of each individual’s own choosing.
So, here’s wishing that the new school year, with hopeful beginnings and clean slates, is one in which sweet memories are created, teachers find ways to inspire each individual student, and kids – even in their weediest moments – discover the extraordinary within themselves.
Oh, how I miss being part of it all…
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.