The beginning and the end of something always seem to be the most significant–the most palpable. They’re like bookends, and the simple fact that nothing precedes a beginning and likewise, that nothing succeeds an ending, makes these two things unique and remarkable.
Maybe this is why I always used to yearn for the first day of school.
It was the space in between two sets of books, and it always felt just like that–like space. Summer never seemed to be short enough, and I anxiously counted down the weeks until I was eventually able to go back to school. I find myself the same way now over the summer. I enjoy my time off, and I enjoy being able to take on other projects. I still, though, find myself anxiously counting down the days and weeks until I can be a teacher again.
The first day of school is always high energy, like a firework in hot July, bursting out from a remarkably small space, bright with possibility, illuminating the sky above and the ground below. Kids and parents bustle nervously and excitedly into their classrooms, while an awkward tension fills the air. Everyone continues onward, anxiously waiting for a break in the tension.
I remember the end of my first class’s loop (A loop is a 2-year class.) so vividly, like it was yesterday. All of the teachers crowded around the bus turn-around, waving goodbye to students hanging out windows. Just minutes before, we had all been inside the classroom, enjoying our last few minutes together, exchanging meaningful sentiments and promises to keep in touch, and at that instantaneous moment in time, I was somehow watching them leave. It made the moment significant, it made the moment meaningful, and it made the moment feel like it was longer-lasting, but simultaneously much more fleeting, than all of the moments that led up to it, even though all of those preceding moments amassed to something much greater than that current moment itself in number and size.
I walked back inside the building that day feeling lonelier than I had ever felt in my life. The 24 kiddos that constantly surrounded–the ones that constantly needed me–were gone. They no longer needed me, and they were no longer going to be hanging on my arms and asking me a million questions. And so, naturally, I anticipated the next year. I anticipated recreating the same relationships, the same sentiments, and the same learning experiences, so I could develop just as strong a bond with my new class.
This anticipation, however, can be some what debilitating for a teacher. At least for me.
We over-plan, we anticipate every little moment, every little outcome, and every success and shortcoming, but it still never works out the way we plan. When my next group came, of course, it wasn’t quite like I expected. They filed in rather quietly, clearly scared to be starting fourth grade, and anxious about stepping out of line. I had my whole day rigidly planned, as I usually do in the beginning of the school year, anticipating all of the tasks we’d complete. I was anxious to recreate the strong relationships I had with my last class; I was anxious to feel the same things I felt when I bonded with my first group of fourth- and fifth-graders.
Within minutes, I soon realized that what I had anticipated and what I was trying to replicate from my first experience was impossible to achieve. This was a new group of children, with new experiences, with different wants and needs, and placed in a context that was radically different than the group two years prior, even if it was in the same physical space.
It was in that moment of realization that I let go of my last group, and I began to embrace the uniqueness of a new experience. I wasn’t sure what to expect, so I embraced the uncertainty, held on for dear life, and trusted that my good intentions and the utter possibility that innately lies within a child would be enough fuel to keep our class and our love for learning going through two great years.
When finding something new–when starting a new phase–it’s essential to give the old away, but not necessarily in a bad way. While it’s important that we’ve internalized lessons from the past, it’s even more important that we try not to recreate them or anticipate their resurgence; instead, we use them to help them mold the future into something greater than we’ve ever had before. I love the first day of school because it allows us to achieve just that. It allows us to find faith in the possibility of something new. It allows us a clean slate, one on which we are allowed to write a new story that reflects on the past but doesn’t necessarily cling to it.
It allows us to breathe in the possibility and hope that comes with something new… and exhale the comfort and peace that comes from doing so.