I’m a Fool for Back to School

Fall is here, hear the yell 
Back to school, ring the bell 
Brand new shoes, walking blues 
Climb the fence, books and pens 
I can tell that we are going to be friends 
Yes I can tell that we are going to be friends

–“We’re Going to be Friends” by: Jack Johnson

Fall is here–almost. It certainly feels like Fall in the Northeast. Today was beautiful–68 degrees, sunny, clear blue sky. And to make it even better, it was a school day. Yes. You read right. School. I love the first week back to school. There is so much promise in the air. A new beginning. A FRESH START. I teach high school. Ninth grade. When I tell people this, they usually groan and tell me they’re sorry.

No need to apologize. I love my job. Sure, there are things I wish I could change, but overall, it is the most rewarding profession in the world. I get to surround myself with bright young minds. I am a part of helping students see their potential. I look into the eyes of the future and see its promise. There is no better reminder of this than Week One of a new school year. I did not plan on writing a post about this. Like every other parent in the land, I thought a Facebook post of the kids at the bus would suffice. But this picture changed my mind:

photo (35)

I stumbled across it Friday afternoon. I was looking for my iPod on a book shelf, trying to squeeze in a run before the boys came home on the bus,  and there I was–my kindergarten self– smiling back at me. I actually uttered “Hello.” And instantly I was transported to that driveway, the driveway of my childhood friend and neighbor, Cindy. I noted our keen fashion sense, I wished I still had my vinyl “briefcase” (so mini- Mad Men) and realized that global warming must exist today, as we are wearing sweaters and long sleeves on an early September morning.

I love this picture. It holds particular significance because my friend Cindy died our senior year of high school–her future cut tragically short by a drunk driver. But this photo is not about endings, it’s about beginnings. And that is what I love about going back to school. We are all given a fresh start, a clean slate. We are not only permitted, but encouraged to begin anew. In the first week of school, everyone is clean and well dressed, new notebooks crackle, and the smell of freshly sharpened pencils waft through the air. In the first week of school, everyone has an “A”, and all kids are equal. In the first week of school, I am not troubled by the latest rumor or round of “He-said-she-said.” Rather, the halls are filled with “hellos” and “welcome backs” and “how was your summers.” I am not being naive, I am being optimistic. As I look out at each boy or girl, they have equal footing. I’m not bogged down with all of the sadness that will creep into the year–Mary lost her mother last Winter, Dylan’s parents are getting an ugly divorce, Alan’s family is basically homeless. I will swim in a variety of letters that detract from the feeling I have now: IEPs, 504s, ACTs, SATs, PSSAs, ADD, OCD…These all matter, they inform how I teach the individual. But in Week One, we are simply “period 5.” And I look at every student and I see us unified in hope. I want them to know that I am glad they are here, I believe they can learn, and I will do my best–which is exactly what I expect from them.

I don’t like to pre-judge– to hear about my students prior to meeting them– “You’ll love Jane!” “Jake can be a handful…” I want to get to know each person organically. I want us to figure it out, to grow together, and we will. On the flip side, as a parent, I try to not pass judgement as well. It’s hard. People talk. But I live in a great school district and all the teachers are dedicated–as I believe the majority of us are wherever we lay down our red pens. Yet, a question I have heard this week, and I even caught myself asking a girl in the neighborhood, is telling: “Do you like your teacher(s)?” What are we really asking here? What message are we giving to young people by saying this? For I think it does send a message to our kids, however slight or subtle it may be.

I witnessed a similar situation from both of my sons. Our elementary school recently merged with another that was shut down due to low enrollment. The students from Tall Pines are now attending Maple Acres (not the real names). Both of my sons came home from the first day and mentioned how there were so many kids from the other school in their classes. My younger son even complained that “it didn’t even feel like Maple Acres anymore.” He’s starting second grade, for crying out loud. This sounded like something a student overheard from a parent’s conversation and parroted the message to his/her friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on. Whether it was something they heard or truly how they were feeling, I was not comfortable with their negativity. “Well, guys,” I said, “Think about the kids from Tall Pines? How do you think they feel? Their school was closed. They’re the ones coming to a strange place where they don’t know their way around. You’re lucky. Think how hard it would be to have to go to a new place and start over. And who knows, one of those new kids may end up becoming your best friend!” That seemed to quiet their contempt. But it served as a reminder to me. We are so judgmental, so quick to assume. It’s too early in the year to be negative–the negativity will creep in soon enough.

When I stared at that picture today, I felt good. In my head, I commented to my former self how “You’d never have thought you would be a teacher someday, did you?” And then I was filled with a sense of pure happiness. I get to start fresh every September, and with each new school year, my hope is restored. And it’s not just me. Every teacher, every student will begin again. I think even parents look to September to restart the clock and try again. True, the circumstances will always be different, sometimes gravely so, but each September there is excitement and promise. This could be the year. This will be the year.

It might be cool if you went back and found a picture from your school days, the younger the better. Take a good look at it. Say hello to your old friend–take stock in where you’ve been and what you’ve accomplished. It’s never too late to begin again, and it’s the perfect time to do so because “Fall is here…”

owen school picassahayden school picassa

Tonight I’ll dream in my bed
While silly thoughts run through my head
Of the bugs and alphabet
And when I wake tomorrow I’ll bet
That you and I will walk together again
Because I can tell that we are going to be friends
I can tell that we are going to be friends   —Jack Johnson

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70 comments

  1. Great post, sir. When my kids started the early elementary grades, I thought I had missed my calling and should have been a teacher instead. Kudos to you for having selected a profession that suits you so well. It is a rare thing indeed.

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  2. I wish you were my kids teacher! I loved that photo of you and Cindy, I could not stop looking at it. It is adorable the way she is looking at you.

    Donna Werner | Director of Career Development RE/MAX Keystone 836 N. Easton Rd., Glenside, Pa 19038 T: 215.885.8900 | M: 215.370.0838 | F: 215.885.8901 donnawerner@remax.net

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      1. How beautiful to read your memories from the first day of school and specially about the wonderful profession of being a teacher! You describe it very well! Being a teacher is the chance to live young forever! I also hope that from our profession we can make a little change in this world!

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  3. Love that picture! It is adorable! (and I think Hayden looks just like you!) Also, as a Tall Trees alum (actually moved from the old Tall Trees to the new one in 2nd grade) thanks for sticking up for them! Lastly, can’t believe how big the boys look in their first day of school pics! Wow!

    Sent from Windows Mail

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  4. Michael: Forgot about this picture of you and Cindy on the first day of Kindergarten. Thanks for sharing. It brings back wonderful memories of the fun the Trainer and Lieber families had on Thunderhead Road. Hope you and your boys have a wonderful school year.

    Mrs. Lieber

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  5. That was an amazing post. There are so many times when I go back and look at my year books from elementary school to high school and reminisce about the old days, not all particularly good days, but still the old days. Riding my bike to school in the blistering cold and complaining about how hot it is in school. I’ve never thought about the question “how do you like your teachers” all that much although such a question has been posed to me quite often. Has such a routine question become so powerful as to instill in children the subtle nature of what maybe be judgement? Quite interesting.

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    1. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! Temperature seems to be part of all of our memories–I remember dreading driving with a friend’s parents–I thought I couldn’t roll the window down. Uggh.

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  6. Great post. It made me think about my past experiences in life and school. Really enjoyed looking into the past and looking at my present and everything in between the two. It’s great to look at your accomplishments. Thanks for the post.

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    1. I was about to comment the same thing – but I thought to check in case someone else had said this. Do check out the original, Dadicus Grinch, it’s beautiful. Jack White wrote it, and he deserves the credit. Suzie Lee is supposedly his childhood crush.

      I always think of “back to school” as a new year. Even though I’m not in school or teaching in the classroom anymore, I still feel moved by this time of year.

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  7. Hey, I really liked your post! I’m new to blogging and I just set up one called politicalnoob.com and I don’t know if it is good or not. It’s directed towards people who want to know about politics but can’t understand what the news is trying to say. I tried to simplify some of the issues so that people can start to understand what is going on! I only have like two posts though and if you want to read them and give me some feedback with a comment, that would be really cool! It’s politicalnoob.com if anyone is interested. Again, really great post and I really like your writing!

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  8. Wow, what lovely pictures! I miss the excitement I used to feel at the beginning of the term. Sometime after freshman year in college, I lost it. When this semester ends and a new one starts on November, I’ll reread your post for inspiration.

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  9. Loved this. Makes me want to head over to my parents’ house, head to the attic & dig through the years and find a school picture of my young self. Great post. -cheers

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  10. I don’t have chitlins’ myself, but I’m always glad when school starts because my co-worker actually comes to work a full week instead of her calling in all the time ‘cuz a kid is sick, bruised, sad, feeling pukey, needs to go somewhere, wants to go somewhere…
    Great read!
    Congrats on getting pressed!!!

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  11. I wish I had teachers like yourself when I went to high school. Unfortunately my teachers never cared whether I was present in the class or not as long as I did well on my exams and found a way to get my homework to them on time. Which I always did. I spent my high school days with the worst type of people making dumb decisions with no direction. I often regret my teenage years. But enough of my sorrow. Good luck on the coming year!

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    1. I am sorry about that. Interestingly, I had some pretty bad teachers, too. It actually is one of the reasons I became a teacher–I thought, learning does not have to be torturous or apathetic. I certainly have my share of regrets, too. I wish I was more daring in high school, not afraid of what others would think all the time. Ah well, life moves on and so do we.

      Thanks for the well wishes. Happy Fall!

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  12. I just came across your blog and really loved this post. You described the miracle of a new start every school year very well! When I was still in school, I had that feeling every summer, and now, that I’m going to be a teacher myself soon, I found it waiting for me. Every beginning is a new start, unspoiled and innocent.
    Thank you very much for this post!

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  13. I think that’s what teachers do – restore faith, belief and the power that there will be a chance, a day, a time etc. you are a wonderful teacher, am sure and your students will be proud to have been taught by you. “Every teacher, every student will begin again.” such a beautiful thought.
    loved starting my day to your post. thank you and good luck and congratulations on being freshly pressed.
    ps: your picture has a brightness of sorts, though am sorry about cindy

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  14. Michael – I came accross this terrific post you put up. I especially love the picture of you and Cindy. You were lucky to be so close to her. Happy birthday and I hope to see you around.

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  15. What a wonderfully warm and positive post! This is exactly one of the many reasons why I dream of becoming a teacher myself! The opportunity to start afresh every year, but within just enough familiarity and structure to not feel like the change is too alienating or disruptive. I’m still in the earliest stages of wanting to be a teacher; I don’t know about you but where I live in the UK, you can’t apply for teacher training (next September, I’ve got to wait now) until you’ve had at least 5-10 days of work experience in a school. At this very moment I’m preparing letters to send to schools, and preparing what I’d say in phone calls and emails, and I must say it’s a juggling act between the determination to succeed and passion for what you want to do, and the fear that nobody will want to take you on even for five days!

    But oh, reading your post about how rewarding teaching can be has certainly made me want such a career for myself even more, and I’m so pleased to find that there are teachers out there who genuinely do love what they’re doing and feel that they’re making a difference. I hope I can be one of them someday!

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    1. Thank you so much for your heartwarming comments. I can tell you have a passion for teaching–you will get those 5 days in a school, and a few years from now, you’ll be a pro at this teaching thing. As a teacher, I find it’s all in your attitude. If you’re positive they will (become) be positive. A great bit of advice I received from a principal once–“They may not remember everything you taught them, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Best of luck!!

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      1. Thank you for the advice and encouragement – I completely agree with the idea of positive teachers generating positive students! Absolutely, I think back to the handful of teachers who guided and inspired me in my own school days, and their influence has been unending. Thanks again!

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