As Summer Hums to a Close Around Us
The high school is crawling with teachers these days. We plan and prep, pile and stack. We shove desks in circles. Are they better in rows or in a U? We look for the arrangement that will capture what we feel right now, that “it’s going to be a great year” spirit that dissipates so quickly when bells begin to punctuate our lives.
We’ve had time to decompress, to let the cacophony of the classroom fade into cicada lullabies and crashing waves that remind us that classrooms and projects, grades and research papers are transient concerns when viewed from a proper perspective. And just as we let ourselves relax into the rhythms of the world, a new school year beckons.
Slowly, we ease ourselves back, visit our ghostly classrooms, open blinds, unpack books, and throw out things that seemed crucial in June. Some of us adjust with site visits first, filled mostly with greetings and hugs and how-was-your-summer exchanges. Then it’s back to our classrooms; there’s work to be done.
If I arrange my desks in rows, will that ensure order? If I arrange them in a U will it encourage constructive conversation?
I take down last year’s teaching tenets, developed last September by each class after thinking deeply about their beliefs about learning. “Students learn better when they choose their own groups,” they wrote, but did they? I know only that I held up my end of the deal, and I am leaving room for this year’s lists.
I hang up advice posters for this year’s freshmen, developed in June by each outgoing freshman class. “Mrs. Landau don’t play,” they wrote, and, “Stay out of the breezeway.” They are from experience, from the heart and genuine. Colorful and laminated, the posters pop as I push pins through.
I look at rosters, hopeful pictures of incoming freshmen whose stories I do not know, whose disciplinary records aren’t my concern. They present themselves with forced yearbook smiles, heads turned so slightly. They will show themselves differently on the first day of school. New haircuts, new wardrobes, and fewer smiles, their bodies restless with anticipation, perceived judgment, and the sneaking suspicion that, new building or not, this is looking like more of the same.
If I arrange my desks in rows, will they feel comforted and assured that the order of things has not changed? If I arrange my desks in a U, will they feel ownership and recognize this invitation to participate?
I’m still moving desks, stopping often to survey my classroom, to envision it filled with people I do not know, to see if it will sustain a balance of control and freedom. So far, I’ve settled on the U, content to make myself part of the circle.
Throughout the building, teachers plan and prep, pile and stack as summer hums to a close around us. Though we may not admit it, we are aiming for a perfect first day that will lead us to a perfect year. One we’ll be proud of in June. Like the parallel play of toddlers, we move in tandem, alone but together in our desperate dance of hope.
Brilliant as always.
Rarely does anyone get to do “resolutions” in Sept rather than Jan 1. We do and so do the students. We can be different teachers, they can be different students. Just because we did it one way in the past is no excuse (ours or theirs) for not trying something new and different and challenging and yes, uncomfortable sometimes.
I so love reading your writing, Beth! Such a pleasure meeting you at Goucher!
Lovely! Hope tempered by experience.