I believe in school. Public or Private. Successful or struggling. I believe, stupidly, hopefully and constantly in the place, the children, and the ideals. I love the crazy cacophony of activity as much as I love the silence when the students finally go home. Since I was 6 years old, I believed that school was magic and was the place where I felt freest in the vast world inside my head. My great-grandmothers who watched me and who had no more than 8th grade educations allowed me to dream and think and play in their care and school extended this sense of discovery. My students laugh when I say it, but it is now my 22nd year as a student and almost my 15th year as a teacher and it is still the place where my most creative ideas go to play and my most idealistic social hopes are given life.
My parents are teachers; participants in a system that was segregated in their youth and was often unkind to them as they sought to advance professionally in order to create a better life for me and my younger sisters. When I attended a top liberal arts college, and stated that my professional goal was, “to do something important”, my parents discouraged me from choosing teaching as a career. I did and I still believe. I mentioned before that school saved me. It does everyday and in ways I never imagined. When I was a dark-skinned kindergartener and early reader I was coltish, unobtrusively quiet and bookish yet I still remember my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Williams, and her benevolence in letting me read what I wanted during naptime even if the words or themes were not in our canned curriculum and everyone else was dutifully sleeping. I remember fondly the smell of the gluey binding and the crinkly swish of turning pages while my classmates slept. And my anger when one of them ate a portion of a page from my favorite book just for spite.
I got older and my teenaged life was at its most tumultuous, shaky and scary while I struggled with anorexia, thoughts of suicide and wondering where I fit into the world. School was where I went to escape and swim in my grand adolescent ideas or be in envy of Beowulf’s epiphanies, struggle in geometry only to get the best C of my life, revel in the discoveries of biology or the power of the written word. I grew to respect my own brains and their potential. School saved me.
Right now, as a career educator pursuing a PhD in, what else, education, I always hope that I can be like some of my favorite teachers: Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Platt, Herr Mueller, Madame Pyle; my favorite schools: JFK High, Williams College, University of Wyoming and all my favorite students: too, too many to name. A safe place. An imperfect moment. A challenging education. As a grown up, I want to be like school.
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