We go back to school tomorrow. It is always a hard transition, moving inside and sitting down for hours, not to mention the cacophony of 40 odd teachers all talking at once, after a long summer of walking, reading, digging in the earth, and being silent. This first week is especially hard because, although administration is thrilled to see us after rattling around in the building alone for a month, teachers are not happy until the students arrive, and so we are a hard to please bunch. And a bad audience for meetings. A seriously bad audience. After all, we teach high school. We know all of the tricks.
I love my work, however. I never know what is going to happen on any given day. Yeah, I have lesson plans, and I know who I will be working with each day, but there is an element of surprise in my room that I have never found in any other job. Will I be discussing my laundry patterns this morning? Will someone have a most excellent excuse for being late to class? Something like “I woke up late, the cereal box attacked me, and then, when I was in my car I realized that I was almost out of gas and thought about how late I would be to class and how mad you would be then if I ran out of gas and I had to stop. And then the train came.” Or “Jackson parked his truck too close to someone’s and we had to pick it up and move it over so that he wouldn’t scratch the car.” Or maybe there will be that moment when the class comes together over a brilliant idea, or a unintentionally funny comment, or the deep silence of reading a story silently together…You never know. Even in the depths of February, ninth grade is pretty darn entertaining. We all live for the shining moments of grace that happen in classrooms.
But, tomorrow, what I will be thinking about, really, is how lucky I am to work with my colleagues. We’re a pretty amazing and intelligent bunch at Corvallis High School. I realize this when I leave the building in the late afternoon and I see my colleagues prepping for the next day. One person is grading papers, another setting up a lab, and, out in the shop, they are repairing machines for the next day. Each person is teaching students, not only the contents of the class, but how to think. Thinking like a scientist, like a mathematician, like a writer, like a cook, or an artist—each discipline has it’s own patterns of the mind and we cover them all. High school is really about learning which patterns of mind fit your mind the best—as Salinger says in Catcher in the Rye, learning which ideas fit your size and type of brain—so that you can move out into the world with that knowledge. High schools are miniature worlds when it comes to knowledge. Whatever questions you might have, in a good high school, someone knows the answers. Add in the amazing mixture of students and their own specialized knowledge, and there is nothing you cannot learn in high school.
And so, we are heading back into that world Tuesday morning. Kids won’t show up for another week. All over town, Honors English students are finally breaking out their summer reading books and taking notes. In the building, we will be wrestling with the Big Questions: Do we have a tardy policy? Do yoga pants violate dress code? Why is the copier down? And, how will we teach our kids well for one more year?