Back 2 School

Fall, 2019.

Back 2 school. I wrote 2 instead of two. Hip. Like a Target marketing campaign.

The end of August into September. More school. This will be my eighteenth year in education. That’s a long time. Woof.

I’ve gotten by on an educator’s salary for eighteen years? That, in and of itself, is worthy of accolade. It also explains my still-enormous student loan debt. My struggle to get by. Let me say it again. Woof. Oh well. People shall not live on bread alone.

This is my fifth year as a professor. Five years in Central Pennsylvania. Last week, I helped facilitate an improv workshop for incoming graduate students in Curriculum and Instruction at Penn State. I cleaned up the white board in my office, built some powerpoints, and attended convocation at Penn State Altoona. Tried to finish up some writing and research projects before classes start. Readying myself for the fall. Talk about school pride. We are! (Penn State.)

I’ve written about it any number of times now. School is important. In what other space can people gather publicly to better understand and relate to existence? And, in a school is functioning healthily, nobody is trying to sell anything to anybody. Or exploit anybody. Or hurt anybody.

More often than not, I don’t think schools function healthily. But they could. Critical thought and democracy – I see these things as markers of health – depend on healthy schools.

So eighteen years in education? Okay. School still feels important to me.

***

Solomon starts kindergarten this year. He attended three days of kindergarten camp to prepare.

“I’m so excited, Dad,” he howled. “Kindergarten camp!”

“That’s right, bud,” I said.

I say bud now. I’m Central Pennsylvanian through and through. It’s so hard to resist cultural conditioning.

Bus orientation was part of kindergarten camp. I took a ride on a school bus with Solomon. First, we had to listen to a lecture about rules on the bus.

A bus driver in his fifties stood in front of a crowd of parents and children.

“Alright,” he said with a quiet voice, “let’s get started.”

Solomon paid attention as the man went over information in a binder. Nothing astonishing. No food or drink on the bus. Face forward in your seat. Make sure you look at the bus driver before crossing the street. It was your typical bus safety lesson.

About five minutes in, Solomon’s eyes glazed over. Mine too. I wonder how many boring orientations I’ve sat through in my life? In schools. The number is probably staggering. As I wrote, I’ve spent lots of time in schools.

Anyway, the bus driver must have sensed he was losing the crowd. He tried to amp up his talk.

“Look kids,” the volume of his voice rose. “If you’re horsing around, you’re going to fall underneath the bus and die.”

I was taken aback by this claim. I looked around. The other parents nodded passively. The children didn’t seem to react at all. Solomon was staring at the sky. Critical thought, anyone?

“You ready to ride the bus?” I whispered to Solomon, trying to take my mind off of falling underneath the bus and dying.

“Yes,” he whispered back. “I’m excited.”

The driver finally invited us onto the bus. Solomon and I sat in back. Cool kids. We went for a loop around Pine Grove Mills. Solomon’s elementary school is nestled in a small community on the southernmost edge of State College. It’s pastoral. The school is something else. Freshly renovated. We drove through rolling, green hills.

We learned who Solomon’s teacher was after kindergarten camp. Actually, who his three teachers are. Besides the classroom teacher, there’s one aide and one intern from Penn State. For 18 students. Those numbers are shocking to me. State College’s school district is overflowing with resources. The educator in me understands the great inequities in public education in this country. The parent in me is happy that Solomon will be in a small class.

***

August into September. My routine will, as it always does at this time, shift.

Yes, I miss being a K-12 classroom teacher. There’s something about the grind that is satisfying. The smell of Napalm in September. Still, there’s something about settling in with future teachers for a semester that is satisfying too. Here are people who are willing to get by on an educator’s salary in order to help people become better people. Different people have different motivations for why they want to teach, to be sure. Still, there’s such potential in future teachers. And there’s so much for them to figure out. About themselves. About schools. About curriculum. About theory. About people.

I’m convinced teacher education remains desperately important in this country. Especially as all sorts of forces, often with the backing of powerful investors, attempt to define what school is and should be. So I’m proud to contribute to the cause of developing young teachers with some measure of humanity and autonomy. In whatever ways I can.

Back 2 school.

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