Short-cuts: Thoughts on Diagon Alley.

Diagon Alley - Where Harry Shops for Back-to-Hogwarts Supplies!
Diagon Alley - Where Harry Shops for Back-to-Hogwarts Supplies!

This summer, I checked out–mentally, physically, and work-ethically. (Didn’t abandon emotions or ethics, but overall, have been really lazy. And I consider “lazy” to be a four-letter word. Well, it is, but you know what I mean.)

ANYWAY….the drips and drabbles of the looming school year start to seep in under the doorjamb. Teachers post things about getting ready, and the classrooms are scrubbed by dutiful and conscientious janitors, and all is made shiny and new again. This year the first day of school is September 1. In the olden days, my husband remembers that school never started until after Labor Day, and got out much sooner than we do. I informed him that since the days of No Child Left Behind, a Federal law enacted in the 90s that required teachers receive ‘professional development’ to be considered ‘highly qualified.’ (Those quotation marks are not intended as sarcastic air quotes, but a demarcation of jargon. I am still fuzzy on the whole highly qualified thing, although I am sure I am, and have the evidence/data to back it up.) So, because teachers need more time to receive professional development time, the school year has been expanded to accommodate when teachers are otherwise engaged in their own learning. This is not inherently a bad or good thing, it just is. The goodness comes from when professional development is desired, and choice is given. I have thrived in classes and workshops of my choosing, of my interests. And, the quality of the presentations plays a huge role, too. Not all teachers are meant to be “teachers of teachers.” And that’s okay. But if they’re not going to take on any sort of leadership, or better said, a ‘collaborative, creative workshop’ of sharing ideas and strengths, then perhaps they need to look at who they are as “students:” Teachers act just like students do, too. There are the teachers who constantly raise their hand, interrupting, challenging, arguing, and blurting. (I’m not talking about a respectful exchange of ideas, or challenging falsehoods, but arguing for the sake of arguing.) There are the teachers who sit, distracted by checking emails and other job listings, looking to gnaw their way out. There are teachers, who after one has poured their blood, sweat and tears into a presentation sit back and say they got nothing out of it, that they are beyond everything just presented. (Yes, those have been my tears…) I have come down from the mountaintop only to find the good folks dancing around golden calves and getting into the metaphorical liquor cabinet. All the great information we learn that helps us become better teachers, so in turn, our struggling students can become the cricial thinkers with background knowledge, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, and resourcefulness we all desire gets broken over heads, like clay tablets. And turned to dust.

But still, August passes. I go to Target and snatch up as many .25 cent, now .50 cent composition books as I can (the price will rise steadily the closer it gets to the first day of school, which I find wholly unfair). Yes, we are heavy into tech, but went the ‘Net is down, and we just need some time to review without electricity or the hum of the machine, compositon books are, for me, a great way to spend school supply money. (My children ask me why I don’t ‘make’  my students buy them–many reasons, not for this post.) But I imagine what would be different if I made a journey to Diagon Alley to buy school supplies. Would there be less of a hullaballo from colleagues over textbooks if the titles were, gee, perhaps Monsters: A Compendium or Anthology of Wizarding Writers’ Workshops: Quills and Quagmires of the Ages?

Not sure why I don’t want to think about this next year (but here I am, thinking nonetheless). Perhaps it is as my older son said, that this year may be like Harry Potter’s fifth year – long, boring, but an important expository turning point. In the fifth year, Dumbledore is otherwise incapacitated, and a bureaucratic, fascist pink-suited meanie takes over, Dolores Umbridge. She is as cruel as her devotion to cats.

And, I am terrified of working with her, or worse–becoming her.

Dolores Umbridge

There will be a lot of new people to get to know: new teammates, new administration, new curriculum, new resources, and most importantly, new students.

But the new students will come with their own perceptions of being clever, unique, and the same old tricks will deceptively seem fresh and untried. Alas, dear students – you are not all that clever, at least in many ways. Your trips to the bathroom, getting a drink, including sitting in the bathroom for a few class periods “just talking” will seem like it’s the first time those fabrications have been tried on a teacher. You will test the boundaries of trust and respect. You may even steal from me. All this is true. BUT…it does not make me jaded. Because I know for every lie a student tells, there are a millions sweet truths. I will be honest with you, trust and respect you, because we all deserve a fresh start. And a new composition book.