Monday, August 14, 2006

Potential Energy

The beginning of the school year is such an event. Back to routine, back to schedules, back to mental discipline and effort.

The day before school starts
Flurries of last minute photocopying, small wails (screams and roars) of frustration as teachers frantically search for yet another paper jam in the copier. Stacks of handouts still cover the library. Constant announcements over the intercom. Vacuum cleaners and equipment still dot the hallways. Teachers constantly ask each other "Are you ready?" and “Is the laminator fixed?"

The First Day of School
The hallways are swept and clean. The principal is greeting the teachers as they hurry in extra, extra, extra early ("so I could get a parking spot.") Teachers constantly asking each other, "Did you sleep last night? No? Me neither."

As I stood in the hallway of an elementary school on the very first day of school last week, I was awash in the surge of people and emotions that rolled down the corridors. Most of the kids have already attended the "Meet your teacher" evening earlier in the week so they do not stagger in with construction paper packages that weigh more than they do anymore but they are swallowed up by backpacks and lunch totes.

Entire family entourages escort some children toward their classrooms. Preschoolers wail as they bid goodbye to older siblings. Parents who are "dressed for success" have taken the morning off to see their child to class. Moms, dads, and grandparents weave their way down congested hallways. Some are wielding cameras and documenting each footstep. I jump out of the way of oncoming strollers.

Often, it is an older brother or sister who walks little brothers and sisters to the doors of their new rooms. On duty, I observe a big brother with his backpack slung over one shoulder walking protectively with a younger sister. His big brother hand rides lightly on his sister's pink backpack as he gently guides and pushes her toward her classroom door. As the little girl freezes at the doorway, he leans over and says softly, "Do you want me to come in with you?" She nods frantically and they enter the room together.

Some children come in clutching flowers for their teacher's first day and some shyly handed cards to the smiling woman in the doorway. Some are announcing excitedly, "I'm going to learn to read!"

Then there are the small human tragedies. I see a boy who is frantically scanning the doorways. His eyes are wide and his lower lip is trembling. He is alone. Can I help you find your room? Do you remember who your teacher's name? No? C'mon. We will go find out. His lip stops shaking. A grown-up is helping him.

In another part of the building, a little girl does not seem to even know her last name. She came to school on the bus. She doesn't have a name tag. She looks like a kindergartener, but could be a first grader. Don't worry. We will take care of you. We will find your teacher.

Soon, the noise subsides. Teachers' voices float out of doorways, encouraging order, organizing supplies, handing out name tags. A few parents peer in the small windows trying to catch a glimpse of their little one. More than a few (especially down by Kindergarten) are wiping away tears. Time to go.

Another milestone for parents and children.

Then there is quiet.

So much potential energy.


MotherReader said...

I just want to say, that was really lovely to read. I feel like I got a view into a secret world. Thanks.

Kelly said...

Beautiful, Camille! I'm tearing up just thinking about taking my youngest to Kindergarten next week.