A year like no other. That’s what we kept telling ourselves throughout the summer as we prepared for an uncertain fall. For those of us who chose to go into teaching, the first day of school was always like Christmas or Hanukkah. I’m pretty sure anyone who’s a teacher was always that kid who loved new clothes and back to school shopping for shiny new school supplies. We eagerly set up our notebooks with dividers and finished up our summer reading early. The first day of school was an event to be eagerly anticipated.
We teachers were excited as usual for this year to begin, but with trepidation as well. What would the year look like, we asked ourselves. Would classes be in person or on-line? Would the children be sad about returning to school after so much time at home with their families? Would the children be frightened by the mask-wearing, face-shielded adults who eagerly greeted them at the door?
We take our responsibility as educators very seriously, believing that it is our job to provide a safe, happy, nurturing environment in which children can learn. But with all the emotion swirling around about the virus, and school reopening, and what school would look like with masks and desks six feet apart, would school feel safe and welcoming to our students?
I confess we were all a bit nervous as the first cars unloaded wide-eyed children, headed first to the hand-sanitizing station and then to have their temperatures checked. We so wanted the children to be cheered by the fact that they were back among us, loved and cared for, surrounded once again by friends and adoring faculty.
But we needn’t have worried. What we forgot to account for was the resilience and trust of children. I don’t think any of us truly realized the amount of faith children put in their teachers. Even though they may have been a bit frightened at all the changes, they entered the building willingly and trustingly. It was surely hard to see what we looked like under our masks, but I can assure you that we were smiling so hard that the joy we felt at seeing the children was unmistakable. The feeling you get when you walk into our school is palpable . . . you feel the warmth as you walk down the halls.
The children felt that warmth, and they responded in the way happy children do, with love and smiles. As we loaded the children into their cars at the end of that first day, it was so rewarding to hear their answers as parents asked, “How was your day?” “It was great!” “I had so much fun!” “Best day at school ever. I can’t wait to come back tomorrow!” “It was the best day of my life!” And finally, “This is going to be the best year of my life!”
Ah, the lessons we can take from our children. Even though their world is filled with uncertainty, there is one thing of which you may be sure. If you follow their example and embrace the world with an open heart and faith in others, suddenly the world feels pretty much the way it always has. Like home.
Welcome back, children. We have been waiting for you.