Tuesday, September 6, 2005

And So It Begins...

My kids started school again this morning for the first time in roughly 88.5 days. There were worries about who the teachers would be, where the classes would be located, and what was being served for lunch. Did they have the "right" school supplies or did the "small bottle of glue" on the supply list mean the elusive 4 ounce bottle found behind the pencil lead and the hole-punch in the regular office supply aisle or the 8 ounce bottle that would never fit in a school box but was located with the rest of the palettes of school supplies in the revolving holiday section of the store? But the kids didn't seem bothered at all.

My darling daughters for whom dressing-up means jeans without holes in the knees were also irked because I insisted they wear new, clean clothes for the first day.

"But this is my favorite shirt."

"But you wore that on the first day last year."

"I don't care."

"Do you want your teachers to see that shirt and think we're delinquent parents who don't take care of you and think that education is just an annoyance we put-up-with because it happens to be the law so they don't really need to put in the effort teaching you because they are afraid that you, like your careless, lazy parents, are obviously apathetic, stupid, and a natural troublemaker?"


"Change now or I'll just keep talking."

Really, the first day is about the parents, not the kids. The minute we walk out the door, the teachers let the kids run riot all over the place while they sneak off to the teacher's lounge and share the worst stories of clingy parents who tried to sit in the back row pretending to be a very large fourth-grader.

I remember first days of school when I was a kid. The thing that weighed heavily on my mind for the entire summer was always the question of which teacher I would be assigned. The school I attended had just two teachers per grade. The rumors about upcoming teachers may have varied in details but the essentials were always the same. One of these teachers was perky, engaging, and just so darn excited about her job. The other teacher was just placed on parole from the local prison where she participated in activities meant to hone her well-practiced skills of torturing children under the pretense of educating them.

Of course, I wanted the fun teacher. I could picture myself in her class doing art projects, never being assigned homework, and happily chattering with my friends during long stretches of social time. More than that though was that I wanted my twin sister, who was never placed in my class, to have the teacher harvested from the bad seed. It was the perfect revenge for everything she had ever done to me.

Each year when we arrived at school, we both headed straight for the list next to the door of the "good teacher" for our grade. This class was always easy to spot because of the large cluster of happy students leaping around for joy, chanting, and giving high fives to one another. The formation dancing was a bit much but once we battled our way through it to read the list we could either rejoice as though a conquering hero or otherwise be battle scarred enough to feel perfectly justified in solemnly walking to the door of the other teacher. This door was equally recognizable by the gathering of dejected, somber souls who kept double and triple checking the list hoping that there was some mistake and that their name was not actually there.

Every year it was the same routine. We approached the school, we read the list, and I walked sadly away. Despite it all, I usually discovered by the end of the first day that this teacher's reputation was slightly exaggerated. I would wonder if this was just me being hopeful but in the next week or two I found that some kind of embellishment had taken place. Sure, the teacher was tough. That was a little annoying when you didn't want to practice your times tables. However, when little Jimmy Kopeky kept pulling your hair each time the teacher's back was turned, causing you to react just as she turned around to face the class where Jimmy had switched gears to appear dutifully copying the writing from the board, she somehow knew to keep Jimmy in at recess.

Eventually, I found myself feeling loyalty toward these teachers. I would, instead of feeling dejected by my placement, know that nothing could escape my teacher's notice. Sure that meant that I would have to be well-behaved but it also meant that I would learn a lot and could never be picked on while in class. This did not mean I would willingly share the details of my discovery. The kids in the other class, my sister included, always maintained their insistence that theirs was a wonderful, easygoing teacher. The only kids who hated my teacher were the ones that bullied other kids. Nobody ever admitted to this though. Instead, we stuck to the story and got a little more sympathy from other kids and our parents. This meant that we had to pass along the story of our temperamental, maniacal teacher to the lower grades. They'd find out the truth the way we did. Meanwhile, we got to spend the whole summer terrorizing the siblings of our friends with horror stories about our teacher. We considered this both our right and duty.

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