I have to admit I’ve been feeling a bit guilty. Not that this is something new to me, mind you, but this specific guilt is entirely unknown among my many previous guilts. I’ve also suffered from an obscure form of anxiety over the last few days. You see, numerous friends and former colleagues, teachers, had to return to work this week. They are setting up their classrooms, meeting with a new group of students and parents and beginning the process of figuring out what exactly they need to teach this year. I’m fairly certain that this is what has engendered these hitherto unrecognized feelings in me. After more than three decades, my body knows what time of year it is. I keep pausing in whatever I’m engaged in and looking around at my surroundings. I have had this vague sense that there is something else I’m supposed to be doing.
But I’m retired. Finally I’m fully retired from teaching, a profession that I devoted 32 years of my life to.
It does give one pause. I get to view the process with a less harried eye to the current disruption that others are feeling at the start of a new school year. And I have another advantage in this modern, post-classroom world, I’m a grandparent.
This is something I highly recommend to everyone. As a grandparent you get to enjoy the process much more than you do as a parent. When I was a father I was just trying to get it all to work out and rarely had time to relax or stop and soak in the soft fragrance of roses. Now I can observe and reflect and even restructure my thinking at my leisure.
One of my grandsons started in the preschool at his future elementary school this week. It’s something we encouraged our daughter to do, freeing her up for part of the day to enjoy her younger boy and to rest up a little as she is many months pregnant with number three. She was fully onboard but struggled a little with the issue of letting her four-year-old toddle off with a bunch of strangers.
She was worried that he would have some separation issues.
She needn’t have worried. This appears to be just what he was waiting for. He said “Bye” and off he went into a room with four adults and 15 kids, only one of which he knew before that day. He never looked back. His brother, just three years old, got upset at first that he had been separated from his constant companion but later discovered another new and exciting world. When he got home he found he had his Mom all to himself. My daughter admitted she was surprised at the responses of both her boys but she took it in stride, as she did when she heard what had happened to her son later in that, his initial exposure to the concept of school.
When she arrived to pick up her first born, my daughter got the report of his first day. Here I paraphrase: “He was a bit hard to get focused on one thing,” his teacher said, “he seemed scattered and a little inattentive.” Is this something which shocks his professional educator grandparents, considering he’s four and never been to school before? No!
But the best was yet to come.
President Obama has made preschool education a priority. 1) That, in and of itself, is a good thing. But good intentions . . . you know the rest. It is important that we not only offer preschool but that that preschool is developmentally appropriate for preschool children. It must focus on the social, behavioral and motor aspects of school and downplay the rigorous standards and curricular activities. 2) As an early educator my mantra has always been — “You can teach a three-year old to read, but why would you want to? They have much more important things to learn.”
So back to my grandson and his first day report from his new teacher.
She admitted to my daughter that they lost him for a short time. It seems that they decided to take their brand new class of four-year olds to the school cafeteria for lunch on their first day (a decision which had my wife, the quintessential early education professional, in stitches) and after my grandson finished his lunch and saw that the kindergarteners were going outside to play, he went too.
Upon arriving back at the preschool classroom the staff did a head count and found they were one short. The search was on! When his harried teacher found him out on the playground, happy not as the proverbial clam but as any child would be, to be outside playing; my grandson’s teacher made the mistake of asking him why he didn’t stay with the rest of his class.
“I was done with lunch and I didn’t want to sit in that room (the cafeteria).” was his unabashed response.
Make sense to me — look out world — he’s loose!