Teaching - the first of a new year.
School has been in session for about a week. My class of 30 4th graders is anxious about the coming year. My task is simple: to bring each and every one of them to proficiency in Reading, Math, Science & Writing (as measured by the State of California Standardized Tests) instill in each of them a love of reading and writing, a basic facility in mathematics, a sense of scientific curiosity, respect for each other and the traditions of our country and society, an enhanced personal moral character, improved health and physical fitness, a working knowlege of the geography, history and cultural diversity of the State of California and an awareness of their own individuality and self worth. I have been equipped with the latest versions of the approved textbooks, several hundred dollars worth of pencils and paper, scissors and glue, rulers and erasers, the requisite number of desks and chairs, a variety of balls and jump ropes and $100 to spend on whatever I think will enhance the education of my little charges.
I never sleep the night before the first day of school. Sixteen years and I still toss and turn, dreaming about the year to come. Each year I am impressed with their sense of humor and willingness to go along with my daily attempts to engage their minds. How do they put up with the endlessly stupid standardized tests? With the uninspired textbooks? The long school days and longer school years? So much of their childhoods spent sitting in a hard chair working out math problems or reading dumb stories in basal readers designed by committees dedicated more to including everybody than inspiring anybody. People say teachers are heroes. They are wrong - the heroes are the students.
This year I resolve to spend as little time as possible preparing my students to score well on state tests. To hell with scores. We will take interesting field trips. We will read good books and let the Houghton-Mifflin gather dust. My class will plant a garden. We will play more kickball. I will give homework credit for playing on a basketball team or taking piano lessons. We will, by God, have some fun. And we will learn more than we did last year.