I did it. I went back to school today.
Not officially, thankfully. Our first teacher day isn’t for another three weeks, but because of a combination of other obligations and upcoming family vacations, this week is the only week I have any time to set up my classroom. There’s some time in those first few in-service days, but I never like feeling rushed, and I’d rather use that time to catch up with colleagues and do some planning together. Plus there is something nice about easing back into the school year by coming back to a quiet building.
When I first started teaching, there was very little chance you would have seen me back in the building during the summer. Once the bell rang on the last teacher in-service day and I walked out the building, I didn’t walk back in until the back-to-school convocation. I turned my teacher brain switch firmly to off and didn’t turn it back on until the very last minute. During my first few years of teaching, I needed the summers to decompress after squeezing in 12 months worth of work into those 10 months of the school year. Now, as I enter my 15th year in the classroom, I still need the summers to unwind, but I no longer turn my teacher brain off. I can’t.
It’s funny how things change. The longer I teach, the more I realize that being a teacher isn’t a job you report to from late-August to the end of June. Teaching isn’t something you do for a living. It’s who you are. I’m a teacher. And I’m a teacher regardless if it’s October, March, or July.
I think I first noticed how much being a teacher permeated my life when I started to feel the urge to approach random teenagers in the mall to tell them to quiet down. Or when I started to strike up conversations with strangers in bookstores to recommend books to them. Or when a dad standing next to me at the swing sets near our house started to complain about teacher tenure. As an introvert and generally non-confrontational person, I surprised myself when I didn’t even hesitate to respond.
Going back to school to prep my classroom has actually become somewhat of tradition for me and the boys. The boys love coming to my school and being in mommy’s classroom. They are constantly looking through cabinets, opening and closing my desk drawers, testing out each “big kid” desk, cruising around the room in the rolling chairs, hiding under tables. As I prep my classroom, they watch movies on the large projector screen (it’s the best thing next to a real movie theater apparently―and far less expensive!). This afternoon, the minute they walked through the doors, they pulled paper from my printer and headed to the exact right cabinet to find the bin of crayons and markers. The boys are actually quite helpful in finding out which markers no longer work and tossing them for me, too.
When I glanced up from behind one of my bookshelves―I was repairing a loose nail―I took a moment to take a picture of the boys in my mind. Matthew, the oldest, was playing teacher at the front of the room. He was an art teacher, walking his younger brothers/students through a sequence of drawings. “Okay, kids, just a few minutes left and we’ll take a look at your pictures!” Toby was still drawing, legs swinging, toes barely touching the floor even though he’s already entering third grade―third grade!!!―this year. As the youngest, Colin sat upon his knees in the desk seat as he drew, his head bent over with the serious concentration of a young artist focused on his masterpiece. He raised his hand to ask “the teacher” a question. “Excuse me, sir?” he began, “What do we do when we’re finished?” When Colin starts kindergarten this September, I guess that means that there are officially no more babies, toddlers, and preschoolers left in our family.
As far as the classroom itself, the floors had just recently been waxed and all surfaces dusted and cleaned. As I arranged the desks, I couldn’t get over how new they looked (I had to double check to make sure I didn’t actually get new desks). I ran my fingertips gently across the spines of the familiar titles in my classroom library and added a few more I had found this summer in my book rummaging adventures. I walked around making mental notes of the things I still needed to figure out―where would I put my graffiti wall? would there be room for this poster here or there? is this a good place for the extra bookshelf? By the time we left about an hour and a half later, I’d made some progress in putting things back in order. And all the while, the boys drew pictures, sang songs, and laughed at each other’s jokes in the way only brothers really can.
On our way home, we stopped by the bookstore where Toby asked me to take his picture with a Star Wars stormtrooper cut-out and I picked up a book.
Afterwards, we headed to the park where I sat to read as they swung from a tire swing.
It was a good day.