Monday, August 17, 2015

Back to School?

My alma mater -- where
school starts September 2.
(Photo courtesy of HMHS
Announcements Facebook page.
Last week, I celebrated my birthday. This week, it's back-to-school week.

It didn't used to be that way.

When I was a kid (in NJ), school started after Labor Day. I don't know when the teachers' meetings and preparations began; back then I didn't give much thought to what teachers did outside of school.

The first year I remember starting school in August was my freshman year in college, but since everything was different in college, that was just part of the all-new experience. Besides, we were finished exams by the middle of May, and by junior year, August and the return to school couldn't arrive soon enough. Back in those days before social media, two-and-a-half months away from friends, freedom and a quasi grown-up life felt interminable.

After graduate school, I got my first job in education, cementing my transplant to Pennsylvania and a late-August start to the school year. My Jersey friends were shocked that school started before Labor Day; I focused on the fact that we were out of school in early June, while they went to school until at least the middle of the month.
For twenty-seven years, I adhered to that schedule. The past three have been very different, and this year, I'm once again going back to school in September. I have a full two weeks more of vacation than my friends who teach in the local school district, and a week-and-a-half more time off than my daughter. I also finish sooner and get better breaks.

And it feels kind of weird...but in a good way.

It's funny how we get used to the rhythm of life. Until eligible content and state testing dates intervened, my daughter went back to school the last week in August. My colleagues and I went back then, too, our official start a few days ahead of the kids, but not in the middle of August. After so many years of that schedule, this one feels wrong. Off. Out-of-step.

I'm not saying it is those things, just that it feels that way -- much like getting up at 6AM feels wrong to a night owl who hasn't crawled under the covers until after 1AM. I'm guessing those two things are related, too; since summer vacation frees us to listen to our body's clocks instead of our alarm clocks, the start of the school year is, well, a rude awakening.
My daughter is a senior, so I have just one more year to get into step, but I suspect I won't. It feels too early, too soon; no matter what the school calendar says, Labor Day marks the end of summer for this Jersey girl, and starting school in the heat of mid-August feels more like a dress rehearsal than the actual performance. And, given my academic schedule this year, that's exactly what it will be. When my daughter goes back to school, I'll do what I tried unsuccessfully to do for many summers -- get myself on a school schedule before school actually starts.

But I'll be quiet about it. My colleagues -- amazing, dedicated, talented teachers -- are already back at work. I vividly remember those exhausting, all-consuming first weeks, and the only message I want to send them is one of appreciation. There are so many things wrong with public education, but they are not one of them.

Hang in there, guys. The kids can't do it without you. Especially in the middle of August.

Photo: lauramusikanski via Morguefile

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