Back to School

By now, most folks are settled into the school routine, and what was once brand new, maybe frightening, has become familiar. Still, we shouldn’t let it become so familiar that we miss the wonder of this extraordinary process. It’s as if all the musicians in a symphony come together, but none plays an obvious musical instrument. They are teachers, parents, students, bus drivers, crossing guards, administrators, security, classroom aides, kitchen staffs, custodians, before-and after-school care, nurses, librarians, social workers, and probably many more unsung heroes.

For the last four years (as well as for about 15 years with my own kids), I’ve been part of this process, dropping off and picking up grandchildren, and it still amazes. The crossing guard is unfailingly kind as he greets us: “Good Morning, Sweethearts!” and hoists his Stop sign. There’s a whole family in saris, a mother in a burka, and a father in the long black robe of a Greek Orthodox priest. A dad grips his ten-year old son’s hand, an image of security in the brown hands intertwining. Older siblings shepherd younger ones; junior high students cling to their phones like life rafts–what messages could be so compelling? Somewhere in that crowd, flocking to the playground by 8:10 am, there could be another Nobel Laureate, the scientist who will find a cure for cancer, a future parent who will advocate for an autistic son, a gifted novelist or doctor.

And this is only the warm-up! It was once popular to speak of the “Liturgy of the World.” If so, this is the Entrance Procession, with silent hymns, quiet trumpets and unseen banners. What transpires in those classrooms the rest of the day is nothing short of miraculous. Of course it’s not perfect, there’s some wasted time, and it doesn’t work well for every child. But at the end of a year, tiny people will know—just for starters– how to read, write, add, subtract and more-or-less sing. At the university down the road, students representing hundreds of diverse nations and cultures will learn together, and become friends less likely to bomb each other’s nations in adulthood.

On the first day, my four-year old granddaughter explains that her teacher is also a counselor. “So if you’re lonely or sad or scared, you can talk to her.” I don’t remember, at age four (or fourteen!), ever admitting I had such feelings, let alone seeking counsel. But it bodes well for the rest of the year that such a resource is ready and waiting.

This quiet, daily process occurs in every city and town, urban and rural, and might make some nations envious. We should herald it with brass bands, but for now, continue putting one foot in front of the other, carrying another pack back, making another lunch, encouraging another child. Who knows? Of such simple things, greatness might be made.

One response to “Back to School

  1. Kathy, this is a wonderful piece. I just love the way you wove in the details of your granddaughter knowing of a counselor/teacher’s skills and the importance of feelings. I loved “the Entrance Procession, with silent hymns, quiet trumpets and unseen banners. What transpires in those classrooms the rest of the day is nothing short of miraculous.” I was a full time teacher for almost 20 years and then leaped off into the freelance storytelling artist teacher life. Don’t regret that but still fondly look back on the staff and students I worked and played with. This really touched my heart. Made me go visit a 92 year old mentor who helped hire me at 22 for my first job.Thank you so much for the spirit of your writing.

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