Back To School: Thoughts and Declarations, Part I

It’s been more than 12 years since I completed my PhD, thus ending - or so I believed at the time – my connection to the September-June academic calendar. “I’m a working woman now,” I thought. “Finally, my life will be governed by the January-December calendar!” But shortly after I wrapped up my dissertation I moved into PreK-12 education. Then I had two kids, both of whom are now in school. So that September-June rhythm continues to rule my life, as it does for so many of us who are no longer in school ourselves. For me, for many years to come, Labor Day weekend will have more resonance and bittersweetness - will bring more zeal to start afresh and make resolutions - than New Year’s Eve and Day. 

To celebrate the new year, which is just getting under way in New York City, I’ve asked some of the many wonderful, talented students and educators (teachers, principals, and parents) I’m privileged to know to share with me what they’re thinking about as they go back to school.  I received such incredibly thoughtful responses, even as everyone was ramping up, that I’ve had to split this blog into two posts. So there’s more goodness to come. 

I’ve taught kindergarten for 22 years. What I love to witness is the change that takes place as children begin to understand they are part of a larger community - larger than just themselves and their family. Being a facilitator in building a caring community of learners is what’s kept me going, year after year, for so many years. Now, more then ever, I feel a great responsibility to create a compassionate environment where caring and respecting one another is as vital as learning to read and write. I feel it’s my responsibility to teach children to care for one another and to care for our planet. I want to impart to my students something I once read from the Dalai Lama, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” If my students learn only this in kindergarten, I will feel that I have succeeded.

Victoria Misrock Stein.  Kindergarten Head Teacher, Berkeley Carroll School. Brooklyn, New York.

Before the students arrive for day one, I meet with my staff as a group and ask each of them "What is a word to describe your feelings about the upcoming year?"  In this impulse I seek to gain perspective. But like so many things I encounter as a school leader, this word is only a snapshot in time - to be heard and catalogued, but then filed away for future reference. When I did this exercise with my teachers this year I finished by saying to them - "This is how you’re feeling now, but it would be unfair to assume this will be your perspective for the entire school year. As we look to the first day of school let us remember that how our students are feeling one day does not define their entire outlook." It is our role as educators to treat each day anew with our students. Each day is a new challenge and opportunity. Each day we have the chance to make it the best one for these children we serve. 

Kelly McGuire. Principal, Lower Manhattan Community Middle School. New York, New York.

How do I feel about school starting? I feel:

Annoyed: Because the first time my little brother gets on the bus with me I might have to sit next to him.
Confident: That I’m going to learn a lot of things
Sad: Because I can’t be with my boppy (my blanket) all day anymore
Excited: That I get to meet new people in my class.

Saanika Slotwiner. Second grader. Brooklyn, New York.

Academically I hope my daughter’s school emphasizes reading and writing more. It’s her weak subject. I’m hoping her teacher will motivate her to do better with creative lessons and homework. I will also be doing my part to help her along. I would also love if her school would include music and a language (Spanish!).

Friends are important to 6th graders. My daughter is shy and I’m hoping a few of her friends from lower campus will be attending upper campus. We’ve been talking about peer pressure and bullying and coping techniques so that she can survive it and won’t find herself on the wrong path. I have zero tolerance for bullying and her school has policies in place which are super important to me. 

Lastly, daily after school activities are apparently starting this year and are welcomed. My daughter didn’t have them last year. I think having after school options will help my daughter grow socially, be independent, improve her self-confidence and learn how to work in a group setting.

Karen Azikiwe. Nanny. Brooklyn, New York. 

The start of a new school year always begins with so much hope and promise for me as an educator.  For this year, my hope is to bring out the innate curiosity from within my fifth graders.  My school is fortunate enough to have a Chromebook for each upper-grade student; my goal is to teach and guide students on how to use this tool adeptly so that they can maneuver their own natural curiosity through the vast Internet.  Helping them become digital sleuths will hopefully not only engage their curiosity but help to flourish it as well.

Patricia Rendon Cardenas. 5th-grade teacher, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary. Santa Ana, California. 

These three years of high school have been a roller coaster, from staying up all night working on papers to meeting new people of all nationalities. Senior year is the year you're supposed to enjoy the most and also learn from. To ensure a motivated and determined mindset for the rest of the school year I’ve been taking classes at Queens College. Getting accepted into college and starting another 4 years of my life in a different academic world has always been an accomplishment I’ve wanted to achieve. Now it's right around the corner. I hope all the colleges and scholarship programs I apply to are amazed by my grades and academic work. I pray this school year will be filled with amazing and spectacular events for everyone!

Diana Jadunandan. Senior, Townsend Harris High School. Queens, New York.