By Sarah R. Gregory
Well, here we are. August: back-to-school season.
Last year, I started out this column with exactly those same sentences.
This year, again, I’m glad to share some pieces from writers, designers and educators, shared by The Associated Press, with tips, commentary and more about “back to school” season. We’re calling it “Back To School Special.”
I bet you’ve heard those words somewhere before.
It’s funny how “back to school season” has become a commercial thing in and of itself, isn’t it?
“Get your back-to-school home decor ideas here, and don’t forget to schedule your back-to-school Caribbean vacation now for big savings!”
I bet I’m not the only one who jumps to an almost automatic assumption that the word “savings” is going to follow “back to school” as soon as we hear it.
But there’s a lot more to “back to school” that can, and should, come to mind beyond that.
One thing is 1995’s Adam Sandler offering “Billy Madison,” which includes this classic ditty: “Back to school, back to school, to prove to dad that I’m not a fool … I’ve got my lunch packed up, my boots tied tight, I hope I don’t get in a fight … ”
OK, maybe that’s not so important. You’re right.
But it is true — “back to school” is more than shopping for fresh kicks and flashy threads. It’s setting the right tone for a new year, a new start.
Although we’re knee-deep in 2019, in some ways — not just for kids — it really does feel like the start of a whole new year; promises to exercise every day and skip dessert just don’t come amid midnight fireworks for this reset.
Back to the school shopping, though — of course, naturally, retail can play a part in that “fresh start;” that’s why this is our default. It’s not really up for debate that, when we have safe, happy homes, get plenty of rest, start the day with nutritious food, have good hygiene, present ourselves well in our manner of dress, poise, etc., we have better chances for success.
But sometimes lost in the noise of planning, budgeting, wish lists, supply lists, advertising circulars and more are the real game changers: the people who dedicate themselves to “the school.”
All summer long, custodians, maintenance workers and other school staff have been preparing our schools for kids’ return. They’ve polished the floors, fixed leaks and creaks and spent countless hours setting up computers, bulletin boards and all manner of other educational aids.
Even the teachers who supposedly get summer “off” have been hard at work. (Insider information: They really don’t get summer “off.” The daughter of a retired teacher, I can tell you it seems just as many of my childhood summer days were spent in a classroom helping my mom move furniture as were spent at the pool.)
Outside the school buildings, a virtual army of volunteers has been hard at work gathering and bundling supplies, clothes, food and other necessities to make sure kids and families in need have a chance to get the school year started right.
Faith groups, ministries, civic clubs, nonprofits and even the school systems themselves via their family resource centers have organized supply drives, hosted giveaways and even set up back-to-school “bash” events — not because they have to, but because those involved know that every day that a kid walks into a school building is a day that could change their life forever.
Maybe they’ll figure out what they want to be when they “grow up.” (Not recommended; stay young as long as you can, kids.)
Maybe they’ll meet the friend who helps them blossom from loner to social butterfly.
Maybe they’ll take home a backpack filled with enough food to feed the family this weekend — a task that might not be possible otherwise.
Maybe those few hours of classroom time are the only ones during the day a kid is safe, out of a toxic home environment and truly being nurtured the way they should be to develop into a productive member of our civilized society or break the chain of poverty.
When you’re talking about all the people affected by our schools — the students, teachers, administrators and all their families — you never really know exactly what is going on on the real, human level.
The way our “system” works, it’s easy to look at what we, at a glance, confuse for a so-called “bigger picture,” often defined by dollars and cents, standardized test data, bullet points, reports, lists and so on.
It could just be me, but that seems like — even for as complex as the budgetary processes and data are — an over-simplified way of looking at something so hugely important to the destiny of our small spot on this great big Earth. After all, we’re talking about lives here. No two are exactly alike, you know.
Sure, there are home-schooled children and students in private schools, but by and large, those who are going to be ruling our roost in the years ahead are being shaped inside the public school buildings scattered all over our county map.
So, when we’re talking about issues that will affect them directly — how class times are handled, what kind of buildings they should be in, how much time should they spend playing like children versus how much time should they be sitting still, etc. — we need to look with clear eyes, loving hearts and open, thoughtful minds.
We shouldn’t be thinking only about funds. Or test data. Salaries and wages. Curricula. Or any other single, particular angle on any given issue, as difficult as it is to look past our own perspectives and opinions.
There’s a lot at play in every regard — schools, and the administration of them, are environments with symbiotic relationships between issues that, to outsiders, sometimes seem completely unrelated.
That’s our challenge as a community as we get back to school this year. During political battles, regardless of which side we fall, we have to remember the decisions made for our schools are more important than winning arguments or getting “our” way — just because we’ve decided this is right or this is wrong for whatever individual reason.
While our community is debating, in particular, reconfiguration proposals for Greene County Schools, it’s more important than ever to keep track of the human toll.
We need to be mindful of how important our schools, students and teachers are — not just in back to school season, but every day.
While politicians and administrators hammer out the details of how to make the money and paperwork work, it’s the folks actually spending their days in the classrooms who are going to be the most affected, no matter what.
I come from a family of educators. I know our Greeneville and Greene County teachers. And I can tell you this: Like their peers across the nation, they have been pushed and pulled every which way by the state and federal governments, administrative changes and ever-shifting rules and regulations — mountains of extraneous junk they shouldn’t have to worry about because they should be able to walk in and focus on what’s really important: helping kids learn and grow healthy and ready to contribute to our society in whatever ways best align with their natural talents.
So, when you feel frustrated by all the political jibber jabber surrounding our schools right now, take a step back. Consider the complexities. Read up, learn, talk to your elected representatives. All of that is important.
But please, I beg you, don’t put your frustrations on the folks closest to your kids. When you’re sitting around your dinner table, airing political frustrations, watch how you talk about teachers and school in front of your children — they’re sponges, little ones at that, and they shouldn’t be burdened with big people problems.
Our teachers have enough work to do without having to muddle through all that that brings. And, although they are likely the most impacted, for the most part, they are at the mercy of the decision makers, too.
Parents, administrators, school board members, other elected officials, I implore you: Get out of the way and let them teach.
Help them however you can, whether it’s being proactive in following up on your own kid’s homework and behavior or tossing a few extra pencils in your shopping basket to give to a classmate in need.
We’ll all be better for it — now and later.