Teacher Talk: Preparing for the New Year
Are your shelves cleaned? Have you reorganized your cupboards? Are they a safe distance apart? Decided whether the loft should be a reading nook or an observation perch? Is it a safe distance apart? Is the label maker out yet? Are your first-day checklists complete? Does your Assistant know where to stand? Are they a safe distance apart? Are the pictures up in the cubbies? Are they a safe distance apart?Have you written those notes to the children? Did you clean the baseboards? Are there tears in the nap mats? Did you finish stitching the folding cloths? Do you have enough clipboards? Enough pencils? Enough mats? Are they a safe distance apart? Are all the pieces in place in the Eons work? Have you counted your golden beads? Do you have good shoes? Is the fish alive?
Whether this is your first year of teaching or your fifty-first, the beginning of the school year comes with its packs of have-tos and checklists, and this year, those lists are even longer. There are endless things to attend to in preparing an environment for children you do not yet know and even those of us with years of experiences are looking toward this fall with uncertainty.. Some things you're sure of: Practical Life should be near the water source; the first years probably need the lower cubbies. But there are so many more things you can only imagine. Who will these children be? What will they need? Can you make them feel safe? Can you keep them healthy? Will you be enough?
The busy-ness of the beginning of the year often brings with it the illusion of confidence. We know we want to present a sense of certainty and expertise to the parents. We want the children to feel secure in our care. We want other teachers around us to think we know what we're doing. But even when all those things are true, there is still more we don't know than we do. Each of the ten or twenty five or forty children on the other side of that door, even the ones we've known before, brings a new mystery, a new miracle to observe in its unfolding. And with that, a new obligation to be the Scientist, Servant and Saint we know this practice asks of us. For ten or twenty five or forty people all at once. Even when we are socially distanced.
You can't do it alone, even when you look like you can do it alone.
In the midst of all the busy work, make time to connect with the other teachers around you. Take a minute away from your own classroom to go offer a hand to someone else's preparations. Take a break to invite another teacher to walk around the block with you and breathe in some fresh air. Take a moment to say out loud, to your assistant or your administrator or your colleague, "I am excited," or "I am scared," or "I am both."
You should be taking time for self-care even in this busy time... indeed, especially in this busy time. But remember that not all self-care involves quiet time with your journal or a morning yoga practice. Feeling connected to other people, feeling known and knowing others: that's self-care, too. There will be times, for some of us sooner than others, when the real, live, actual humans around us will be fundamentally critical to our persistence as teachers. To prepare for those times, you have to leave your classroom now. You have to make eye contact now. You have to be willing to be vulnerable now.
Making time to be known to other adults gives us the myelin to better know the children. It's time-sensitive work. They're coming. Ten or twenty five or forty of them. each a new mystery, a new miracle to observe in the unfolding. You are a scientist, reviewing what you know about children's development and the materials you've received from parents and other teachers about the children who are coming to you. You are a servant, preparing your classroom so thoughtfully to be available for those children. You are called, too, to be a saint, modeling for children the spirit we hope to protect in them. And while we list that role last in our common parlance, we need to prioritize it in our practice. When the needs of your spirit are met, you are a more precise scientist. When the needs of your spirit are met, you are a more humble servant. Make the time. There's work to do.