Back to School–Same Old Stuff or Is There Change in the Air?

First, I feel that I owe some sort of explanation for the length of time since my last posting. I have been out of town for part of the lapsed time, but I have also been dealing with a physical condition that has been distracting to say the least. I won't bore readers with the details. There is no life threatening issue at hand, thank goodness…it has been mostly an aggravation and inconvenience, but it has definitely been a distraction keeping me from my regular routine and obviously keeping me from staying up to date with my blog or minding my website.

The good news is that I am back now, and I wanted to take a few moments today to write about the fact that I know many of my teacher colleagues are already back at work or they are preparing to return soon depending upon where in the state of Virginia or in the country at large they may live. My friends in far Southwest Virginia, for example, have already been back long enough that the days must feel like they have settled into a routine. For those in central Virginia who are held to a post-Labor Day opening, the work days are beginning, and the students will be coming back in another couple of weeks.

There is something special about the first days of school when everything feels new and fresh again. I know it doesn't seem to last long and the feeling of routine settles in fairly quickly, but I always enjoyed the first days of school in the fall. As the librarian, I was usually appointed the task of greeting the buses and escorting the little ones to their classrooms. Sometimes tears were involved but only rarely, thank goodness. I won't ever forget the returning kindergartener who assured me as we marched down the hall to the Kindergarten wing that he was returning to kindergarten for “Part 2.” His parents had done a wonderful job of shielding him from any sense of stigma over having to repeat the kindergarten experience, and he was quite happy about getting into the routine again.

The first days of school always hold a certain unspoken promise. Everything is fresh…and students and teachers are getting a chance to start a new year with a clean slate. Everybody has an opportunity to hit the re-set button which is nice especially if the year before was a rough one. That is one of the things that sets being a teacher or being in school apart from other jobs and other endeavors…you don't get the same sense of having the privilege of a “do-over” with every job, so I think that makes teaching a special proposition.

I wonder if this year will be different from previous years, though, with regard to some of the policies that we have seen cropping up over the past few years. Perhaps it is just wishful thinking on my part, but I have a sense that things are about to take a serious turn. There are many parents as well as teachers and policy makers who are questioning some of the basic tenets behind the Common Core Standards that were rather blindly adopted by a majority of states just a couple of years ago, and then there are the pockets of resistance that are cropping up with regard to the abuse of testing data. In addition, new, complex, and mostly punitive teacher evaluation systems are going into place all over the country, and I wonder how long it will be before they are exposed for what they cannot do as well as what they can do.

Couple those movements with the grassroots creation of the Bad Ass Teachers group that sprang up organically and rather spontaneously this summer, and it just feels to me like there is a lot going on. I also believe that a lot of conversation is about to be stirred up with the release of Diane Ravitch's new book, The Reign of Error:  The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Schools. The book isn't even out yet, but Dr. Ravitch is already receiving reviews both positive and not so positive by those who are lining up according to their particular point of view and individual educational agenda. It should be an interesting fall as people buy her book and start discussing its more salient points with one another. I look forward to her appearance in Virginia in the fall when she serves as the keynote speaker at the VEA‘s fall instructional conference.

It should be an interesting time no matter what evolves, so for those who are back to work already, I hope things are going well. For those who are still enjoying the last few days of summer, good luck. I hope this is the best school year you have had yet. Yours is a wonderful profession and I for one know just how hard it is but how rewarding it can be.