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My footsteps echoed down the sixth grade hallway, so unnaturally silent and still in this last week of summer. The door to my classroom, swollen with summer heat and humidity, would not give until I had leaned the entire weight of my body into opening it, as though it, too, was reluctant quite yet to let the peace and quiet of the summer go.
And then there it was…the room in which I spend the better part of ten months of every year.
The whiteboard had been washed clean of last-day-of-school messages of love and wishes for summer happiness. The floor tiles gleamed, and I could see that the windows sparkled and shone. Boxes of books and classroom supplies, neatly labeled and numbered in June and stacked exactly where I hoped they would eventually be restacked, were piled haphazardly on desk tops and the windowsill. There was much to excavate, arrange, organize, figure out. I stood in the middle of the middle of the room and closed my eyes…and the classroom came back to life:
I saw my kids working with their table groups, pens, papers, and books scattered here and there. The room was always in motion, even when they are sitting still.
I heard their voices, chatting and laughing, whispering and murmuring, yelling out thoughts from time to time. And I remembered the way these voices changed – uncertain at the beginning of the year, sure and confident by the time the year had ended.
I felt their presence: the way sixth graders never stop moving, the way they leaned in when something was interesting, the way they tensed up and withdrew when they felt nervous, the way it was possible to feel their happiness and sense their hurt. The openness and honesty of children, once you have earned their trust, is humbling.
When I opened my eyes again, I felt ready to put our room to rights. I felt a bit of that early in the year fear lift – the fear that comes from knowing that for all the work I’ve done this summer, for all the work I’ve done every teaching year before, this year will feel as though I am starting all over again. Every year of teaching, really, feels like a brand new undertaking with risks and uncertainties ahead. That’s both the joy and the challenge of teaching children – they do not come with manuals, they demand that we take the time to get to know what makes them tick and what they care about, they ask that we show them why they should care about the stuff we teach them. Teaching often feels like a cross between performance art and air traffic control – it is exhausting and exhilarating work. And you begin each new year feeling like a novice…because you are: you are new at knowing these particular children – individually and collectively.
So, I began opening up the boxes and moving around the furniture. I felt the spirit of all my kids with me , as though they had decided to show up for one more group hug when I needed it the most…setting off on the incredible journey that is a school year.