Fall begins, and I find that I must again fight the urge to break into a school, sneak into a classroom and put up a bulletin board.
Seriously, I love putting up bulletin boards. From my first year teaching I wanted my kids to walk in and smile and know that someone cared about them enough to brighten up the space they would occupy for the next nine months. I wanted them to know that something fun was going to happen; something important. So, I put up inspirational bulletin boards. I put up funny bulletin boards. I put up historic bulletin boards. Artistic bulletin boards. Bright, brilliant beautiful bulletin boards.
I always tell folks that I got “Excellent” marks on my teacher evaluations because the principal loved my bulletin boards (yes, there was a category that covered bulletin boards. It was a thing back then.)
Now, you don’t just slap those learning tools up overnight. I would be knocking at the door of Orchard Elementary in mid-July ready to start some serious decorating. Steve, our custodian, would roll his eyes and tell me to get a life. He’d remind me they still had to shampoo the carpets and not to set my desks up yet. But I couldn’t help it. I wanted to get started.
Through the year, I told my kids every day, “We have so much to do… and so little time.” I know it annoyed them to hear it every day. But I needed to hear it. Everyday. We have so much to do. What we’re doing is important. What we’re doing is preparing for our lives, so pay attention sweet boys and girls. Don’t waste one second of this gift of precious time today that may change the trajectory of your futures. We will have them for so little time. Make it count.
So, all summer long, I would think about what I could put around my walls and hang from my ceilings to impact them from the first moment they stepped into my room. I’d think of what I wanted to teach and how I wanted to open their minds. I’d think of the wonderful novels I would read to them, a chapter each day after lunch before Science. I’d think of how I’d try something new to connect with parents. I’d think of what my colleagues – my friends – could do together – a 6th grade Shakespeare play, a blood drive, a debate, Orchard Olympics Day. And on the first day of school, I would never be completely ready. There was always so much more to do and so little time. But I’d be happy that my room itself was ready to say something to them.
My world as NEA president is full of the politics of education; the systems of education; how to advocate for what our students need so that others understand what we, as educators, understand. Our fight for the schools our students deserve hasn’t ended. Our belief that All means All continues. All public schools should look like our best public schools. All students must have what they need to succeed. The work our union does is important.
But its Fall. It’s Back to School. And it occurs to me that everything our union does is in service to making sure that all students are able to walk into all classrooms and see some sign that someone cares about them. This is how the Fall begins. This is how learning begins. So much to do. Welcome back, colleagues. Welcome back students.