Monday, September 2, 2013

Imagining the First Day of School

I was supposed to design a lesson plan for today. It was to be an entry into this year's learning and lead to others through the school year. By the end of the lesson you were supposed to know how to do something new or do an old thing better. I was supposed to assess, mark attendance, learn your name, assign something I would grade at home when my family wanted to play cards.

I'm sorry, but I didn't it. I've been thinking about this for most of the summer and some of last spring. See the notes I've written? This one is six pages about how young people learn and ways to foster that. The first four pages are, anyway. Near the end it devolves into me lamenting what was, what could have been, and what's coming.

See, schools are changing, maybe for the better, maybe not. Chances are the new schools will be taught by someone other than me. I'm a train conductor who has been transferred to airport security. I'm supposed to check bags, wave a metal-detecting wand, and stare into an x-ray machine. I don't understand this new world and reject what it stands for -- safety as opposed to adventure. I come to work but don't know why.

People say kids are different now and maybe they are, but tattoos, saltier language, and cell phones don't compare to how school itself has been changed. I used to spend the first day of school getting to know students, all of us writing, reading, sharing, creating room for us all. Now, I wonder where that lesson would fit the standards I have to tick off. How I could fill the required lesson plan template without setting off administrative alarms?

There's still time -- three days before classes start. I'll spend the next two days in meetings listening to people talk of the new schools, how excited I should be about it. Some teachers will be excited, some pissed, and some who won't give a damn. I'll scan the room for teachers like me who have moved past struggle and are waiting to run out of air. We recognize that look in one another. We nod almost imperceptibly and leave one another alone.

We will writing on pads of paper trying again to plan a first day that matches our years of experience but doesn't get us in trouble. Can we still do choice reading? Is there a way to read and write poetry? When can we do things without a grade or an assessment? Eventually we will drift off to other things. The woman three tables over will begin writing her married name, having decided just now to accept a proposal and move far away. The guy in the back, will choose now to retire in December and spend the afternoon figuring the mortgage on a place in Maine. And I will draft a poem, story, or essay about a teacher who no longer can stand to sell himself short to the profession that has moved on without him.

I haven't created a first-day lesson for you, and I'm sorry, but it's okay so long as we all write on.