A couple of New Years’ Resolutions ago, I decided that if I was really going to do this writing thing, I needed to start now. I had just turned 30, and realized that destiny is something you have to cajole, court, even hunt and trap. I started a novel, and began dabbling about with writing contests. I entered one for the now-defunct website degreestory.com where teachers were asked to describe what they loved most about their job.
I wrote about “The Golden Time” which is a span of weeks leading up to and entering the school year. It’s a time of potential, of the new and novel, and for years, never ceased to bring me excitement, as a student and as a teacher. I won $200 and it was the first contest I ever entered, which is kind of a big deal. It really solidified in my mind that yes, I can do this.
Anyway, this post isn’t really about writing or that particular contest, but about “The Golden Time” I wrote about that day. With back-to-school coming around, I realize now that this inspirational part of the year has never really been anything more for me than an idealized, nostalgic notion that has swindled me for years.
The Golden Time
It comes in late August. There’s a certain type of golden light that illuminates the lush trees, sparkling on the dewy grass in the early mornings. It is not the hot silver of the midsummer sun, but a light that gently ages towards autumn. The air gets a certain kind of pumpkiny smell to it. I don’t mean a pumpkin spice latte smell. I really can’t describe it except that it smells like end-of-summer heat, mown grass, and pumpkins. When that scent comes to me, when I see the light, I can’t control the excitement that tingles through me. It’s almost time to go back!
As a kid, I pretty much liked school, and as the summer wound down, I was always ready to start the next grade. Because our school systems run on an agrarian cycle, one ancient and set in our bones, though the rhythms of the land many not be part of our lives anymore, the start of a new school year always feels like a kind of rebirth. Not in the way that spring symbolizes rebirth, but when three months go by, a lot can change. As kids, I had grown all summer, and returned to my peers, tanned, covered in friendship bracelets, ready to be harvested by the machine.
It was that idea of change that appealed to me. You got a pile of (mostly) new school supplies to lord over and write your name on with sharpie. I remember painstakingly creating collages on my folders and binders with clippings from Rolling Stone and decorating the inside of my locker just so. Then, of course, there were new clothes, and new styles to try. That, coupled with the hustle and excitement of fall sports and upcoming events like dances and homecoming parades made back-to-school a time of magic. Of transformation and possibility. Summer, a chrysalis, just waiting for beautiful wings to emerge.
This year, I always think, this year will be different. Things are going to change. This year I’ll have the right outfits, the right accessories, and the right friends. Everything is going to be amazing. This year I’m changing my look, and everyone will be impressed. This year I’m going to be the funny kid, and everyone will be impressed. This year, I’m not going to get in any fights with friends and I’m going to do better in math. I’ll show up on the first day with my new folders and my cool collage binder and they’ll all see the new me.
It’s the same when you’re a teacher. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if deep down inside, the Golden Time is a significant chunk of what inspired me to teach. I’m addicted to the idea of possibility. Your students come to you, all scrubbed and tan and shiny and ready to learn, and you get a clean slate. This year, you think, I’m going to keep way better track of my formative assessments, and I will most certainly not be putting up with any more of Student X’s shenanigans. Also, my hair and nails will be fabulous.
Perfect Things are Impossible
Maybe it’s annoyingly obvious for those of you reading this, but I’ve just now, this year, come to the conclusion that the Golden Time may be a truckload of bull… fill in the blank. It’s taken me 12 years of public school, 4 years of college, and 10 years of teaching to finally reach this conclusion. And, to be honest, I feel like an idiot for being so optimistic.
In middle school, even when I showed up with the cool new dress my mom and I sewed, or my awesome X-Files folders, the bullies and frenemies were still there. Sophomore year, when I showed up with pink hair and Goth from head to toe, ready to buck the system, I probably looked cool for the first 10 minutes before the late summer heat melted my make up. The cool collage binder got lost, ruined, whatever. The math grades weren’t the best.
As a teacher, I’ve come to the realization that it doesn’t matter how many clever powerpoints you make, how you decorate your classroom, what color you paint your nails, or whether or not you wear black the first day and try not to smile. The same crap happens year after year. I’ve worked in three different schools, and it really doesn’t matter where you are. There’s always going to be professional development days that last way too long, discipline problems, and wasps in the classroom. There will always be that kid who pushes your buttons, and there will be others that you really enjoy working with. But no matter what, you’re still going to have to administer the Iowa Assessment at some point.
I guess… I’m weary of getting my hopes up.
What’s the Difference Between Jaded and Realistic?
The smell is in the air, and the light is tinged with gold. My heart wants to find that flighty excitement of yesteryear, to plan my outfits and decorate my classroom, but I’m really having trouble this time around.
I should be super excited. I’m teaching high school for the first time, and I’ve always wanted to do it. Talk about a rebirth! I’ve got a new school and new books to teach.
Maybe I’ve reached the point in my life where I don’t want to be a butterfly anymore. Maybe I’m happy being the fuzzy caterpillar. It could be that I’ve reached a point where I just want to be myself, no gimmicks, no bulletin boards, no magical outfits that will impress whoever it is I’m trying to impress. This time around, in year 11, I guess I’m just there to do my job, do it well, and head home at the end of the day. Is there anything wrong with that?
I do miss the optimism this time around. The Golden Time had this Christmas Eve feeling that’s addictive and pleasurable. But I think the time has come to let it go and be okay with that. Summer isn’t a chrysalis anymore. It’s this long, amazing time where you go on trips, write, and binge Stranger Things on Netflix.