Back to school and not-so-blue
Since this comic by cartoonist Marty Bucella was originally published, it has inevitably popped up on my teacher-friends' Facebook feeds around this time of year.
It’s easy to see why—it’s a clever cartoon that turns a cliche on its head while capturing an undeniable truth: teachers sometimes dread school mornings as much as students.
Every time I see it, this comic makes me laugh. What teacher hasn’t been here? Who hasn’t wanted to hide under the covers and throw a temper tantrum rather than get up to go to work?
It’s funny because it’s true.
It’s also endemic of a back-to-school malaise common among both students and teachers that is especially prevalent in middle and high school.
It’s cool to dread going back to school. It’s funny.
No, really, it’s funny. This isn’t a post meant to scold anyone about making back-to-school grief jokes or to imply there’s anything wrong with them. I’m the first to shield my eyes and wail, “NOOO!” when I see the initial “Back to School Sale” sign go up, and I have a great time bemoaning the pre-dawn alarm clock. I’m a fan of Bucella’s work and love this strip.
There is nothing wrong with a little gallows humor about facing the daily grind again after eight weeks of sunshine and freedom, but as much as I might be tempted to erect a faux headstone (“R.I.P. Summer 2015: Gone Too Soon”), I decided to use this post as a way to remind myself why I picked this profession in the first place.
It’s not, despite what some pundits might think, because of the summer off.
I teach because I love it, and that love means I can’t help but retain a bit of that kindergarten excitement about the first day—even after 18 years in front of the class.
It may not be as funny to blog about my back-to-school enthusiasm, but I think it’s important to share our joy and anticipation along with making jokes about wanting to wear mourning on the first day back.
So what am I looking forward to?
The smell of a freshly cleaned school. The almost blinding whiteness of my whiteboard (which will not be this color again until next year). The incredible possibility of a blank planner. The feeling of accomplishment when I finish each class syllabus.
Buying new school supplies—especially getting new pens (particularly after I'd found my One True Grading Pen). Setting up my classroom and seeing it, just this once, perfectly neat and organized.
My student editors’ excitement during our Saturday retreat as we plan for the first journalism class, which they will help to lead. The excited squeals of teenagers seeing each other for the first time in two months on the first day of school. Getting hugs from last year's students who stop by just to say hi or to tell me about their summers.
Watching each class come in, new faces and personalities and skills to discover. Learning their names and finding out what motivates them. Knowing I will make a difference to at least a few of them.
As the year goes on, experiencing these initial joys deepening and becoming more complex. Developing class jokes, bonding over books we love (or love to hate), and debating the ethics behind controversial articles in the paper.
Seeing students who were convinced they couldn’t write discovering that maybe they can. Shy students in my journalism class learning to introduce themselves confidently before interviewing a complete stranger. Students in my lit classes who thought they hated to read finding one poem, or one short story, or one article, or (maybe!) more than one book that speaks to them. Hearing them share this with the class with something between disbelief and revelation.
I will always laugh when I see a comic about teachers dreading the first day of school because there’s truth to it. Summer is rejuvenating, and it’s hard to shift from flip flops to sensible shoes.
It’s a hard job. I seldom put in fewer than ten hours on a school day, and I usually reserve at least four hours on the weekend to catch up on grading. Sometimes the stress of planning and grading and worrying about students or parents or policy can be overwhelming.
But it’s also the best job. I think it’s cool to admit we’re all a little excited about that.
For more inspiration...
If you are a teacher and you are in need of some inspiration, watch this wonderful TED talk from veteran teacher Rita Pierson. She starts her talk saying, "I have spent my entire life either at the schoolhouse, on the way to the schoolhouse, or talking about what happens in the schoolhouse,” and her talk explores the key to a happy life in that schoolhouse: relationships.
"Teaching and learning should bring joy,” Pierson says. "Is this job tough? You betcha. Oh God, you betcha. But it is not impossible. We can do this. We're educators. We're born to make a difference.”
“And though she be but little, she is fierce!” -A Midsummer Night’s Dream