I recently described the process of going back to school as a teacher as one of going from around 30 mph to driving on the Autobahn when all you did was turn a corner.
My students return tomorrow…there will be the thumping of backpacks, giggling, hugging, stamping up the stairs, whispers, welcomes, locker clanging, general hubub and the occassional holler that needs a gentle quash…there will be questions, there will be stories, there will be laughter, there might be tears…
Funny thing is, I don’t remember that same sort of hype of re-entry that my students experience. What I remember is going to the door of my local public school to check out homeroom lists so I could see what my potential would be for having a friend or two and what I could expect for trouble… being a contented solitary kid didn’t go over so well with some of my classmates. I remember going to the local department store with my mother and buying new school shoes. School shoes and sneakers. School shoes were leather, sneakers were canvas… Navy and tan saddle shoes stick out in my memory as do rubber toe-capped Keds lace-ups in either red or navy, depending on what color was available in my size. Each year I remember thinking that my step was somehow bouncier in new sneaks, that they alone would make me run faster. Ah, such simple thinking, such deeply sought illusions…
On that level, I can easily identify with my students on their return to the halls of their familiar. They too have many deeply sought illusions…of shoulds, mights, somedays, if onlies… that are hidden beneath the protections they have applied for safe keeping.
I am giving a talk at the seventh grade retreat this coming Friday on a moment in my school life when I realized I had a unique gift and how that realization played into my self-esteem. I know the exact moment, actually. And can still, twenty years later, remember the feeling. It ws my senior year, though. How do I tell my students, especially those contented solitaries who are biding their time to bloom, that it took that long?
It was speech class. A requirement for graduation that I postponed as long as possible. We had to give a personal experience speech–I asked the teacher if I could make one up because I didn’t feel like sharing one of my own with a class that included several who had taken it as a mission to tease me without ceasing for years. He approved it. I spoke for fifteen minutes about the day I met the Queen of England thanks to a pen pal relationship I had with the Royal Gardener. The class bought the whole thing. I remember thinking as I realized they all believed me…”This is what it feels like to be in control…to be believed even when spinning wool…there is something to this…to having people in the palm and being able to take them where blows the creativity given to me by God.”
And so was born a storyteller, a teacher somewhat flamboyant in speech and gesture, though certainly not in dress, a poet who would share her words and write for others, a blogger who believed she had something to say that people would want to read.