Yesterday marked my 21st first day of school, and most likely, my last since by this time next year, I will have completed classes and will be teetering on the edge of insanity while trying to compose a meaningful dissertation. I hope that you, my imaginary internet friends who read this, (comprising a grand total of mom and husband) will stick with me.
There are a few first days that stand out: kindergarten, because school was a new, exciting, and terribly grownup thing to do. But also because my mom made me this awesome doll that I named Rosie and still have to this day. My mom made first days extra special for me - usually with presents. Yes, I'll admit it, the presents sometimes outshone the actual school part. Also, I got to wear whatever I wanted, as evidenced by the jaunty four-inch lace collar I am sporting in the photo above. (In the interest of full disclosure, that is picture day, not the first day, but I think it gives a pretty accurate depiction of my late-80's fashion penchants.) But there are some other days that stand out. My freshman year of high school, a new student in public school for the first time. An upperclassman told me she liked my jeans. I can't remember her name and I don't know where she is right now, but she single-handedly made me feel like maybe I could do this. Maybe I wouldn't have to change my name, move to Guam and get a job in the coconut factory. And my junior year of college. I moved into my first apartment (on campus) with five of my best friends. Life could not get sweeter. We stayed up until hours that I now see when my alarm goes off in the morning, had family dinners, cried about boys, and promised we would never fall out of touch. We didn't, by the way. We've seen each other through six graduate degrees, three weddings, one transatlantic move to Spain, four houses bought, and now a baby on the way who I can't wait to spoil as an auntie. That first day is all the more memorable because of all that.
Now as I'm looking at this, I'm realizing that my best first days don't have all that much to do with actual school. They have to do with people making me feel supported, loved, and not alone as I began each new year. And this held true last week when I had one of the best first days of school ever. Since I work at a school, I get to have two first days a year. And last week, we held an orientation for the families of our students. We don't always get a lot of parent involvement here, for many complex reasons. But this year, we had more than ever on a first day. During a discussion about attendance - a perennial issue for us - a parent stood up and declared that it was hers and all other parents' jobs to provide their children's primary education. Schools just support them. They need to take the responsibility to teach life skills, make sure their children attend school, and help them succeed. At first I thought, well....okay, but we're more important than just supporters, right? But no, she was absolutely right. Life skills have to come before algebra, expository writing, and mitosis. Without integrity, responsibility, and self-awareness, math, science, history, and humanities will only get one so far.
I read an article on CNN called What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents. In it, a seasoned principal has quit her job and left the profession saying that parents are killing her and she would only come back and teach if there were a school for orphans. I couldn't disagree more. Sure, I've experienced the tension, the skepticism, and sometimes the plain disrespect that happens between educators and parents. But listening to the parents of our students yesterday exemplified why they are really the cornerstones in the process of educating a human. We are supporting them. Now I completely understand that teachers do not get the same respect as, say, a pediatrician. Parents are not as likely to question a doctor's suggestion as they are a teacher's. That, I think stems from a societal view that teaching is so easy anyone could do it, but being an MD is for an elite and brilliant few. I think we all know how I feel about that, but that's for another post. But really, pediatricians lend their expertise to parents to help them raise their children in an informed and healthy way. And so do educators. They lend their expertise to help parents teach their children how to be adults.
I'm not a parent yet, but I hope that when I am, I can really understand what it means to shoulder the responsibility of my child's education and treasure the expertise that my child receives from her doctors and her teachers. I hope I won't be one of those parents that teachers see coming and cringe. Also, I hope that I can be a part of some of her most memorable first days of school. Presents will help.