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A new box of 24

Tomorrow is the first day of the new academic year, at least where I teach. Every year I greet it with equal parts of fear, anxiety, and joy.

Beginnings are always scary--beginning a new semester, beginning a new relationship, beginning a new...anything. New, by its very nature, is "different" and we are hard-wired to be suspicious of the new, to be cautious, to assume it is dangerous until proven otherwise. That instinct has done us a lot of good over the ages. It has helped us become, among other things, the dominant lifeform on the planet. (It is also responsible for some not good things--like bigotry, prejudice, xenophobia, stagnation, and nationalism--but that is another issue, for another post.) So, there's that.

There's also that social anxiety that comes when you are going to meet new people. Tomorrow, based on enrollment counts and my scan of my rosters, I will meet 141 new people, each one of whom I, as their teacher, want to respect and who I want to respect me. It would also be nice if they liked me. Previous experience, both as a student and as a teacher for more than 20 years, tells me that won't happen. About 10% will come to like me, and an equal percentage will come to hate my guts. More than half will respect me, but at least 30% won't have more than casual disdain. So, tomorrow, I'm going to meet roughly 50 people who will never find anything I do "acceptable." So, no surprise there about the anxiety.

But they are anxious, too. About 60 of the people I meet tomorrow will be first time college freshmen. Talk about exciting and scary! Many will be living away from home for the first time, and no matter how liberating that can feel, it also feels lonely and unsafe. They will be trying to learn a new system of education, a new campus, a new life. And they will be surrounded by strangers. At least I have my colleagues, and familiar spaces. The new students have none of that.

But the beginning of a school year is also full of promise and possibilities. When we were children it was marked by new clothes, and new pencils, new folders and notebooks, and, if we were lucky, a new lunchbox with our favorite cartoon character/TV show/rock star on it. There was a new room, a new teacher, old friends in new seats, and the possibility of new friends. A new start. Maybe this year I'll be good at dodge ball. Maybe this year I'll like math. Maybe this year...

For me, the most emblematic signal of a new school year came in a yellow and blue box, labeled "Crayola." Nothing smells so much of possibility as a new box of crayons. And as you take one out of the box--the paper crisp and unblemished, the color clear, the end beautifully pointed (but flat on the end!), nothing holds so much possibility. Will you use the crayon to make a venn diagram? To color neatly in the lines? To create a beautiful image to go beside the poem you've selected to share with the class? To create a daringly individual self-portrait for the art show? To write in anger on the wall? To deface the desk?

Nothing so much in any school year is emblematic of choice, of the individual's ability to make something of their environment, to define themselves, as a box of crayons.

For all that new is dangerous, and requires caution, and good judgement, new is also about beginnings, and we can choose how we begin. And we must, for as we begin, so we go on.

I think I'll start with cerulean.

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Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
goodscagirl
Aug. 21st, 2011 11:50 pm (UTC)

Just talking to a kid starting jcc. Advice- we told him to take it seriously. Marcus was checking out rate my professor for his classes. I told him that didn't apply to him. He always shows up, does his work, and is respectful of the teacher and values his grades. Others ratings mean little. He is anxious about a new school but he will do great. You will do great too! Good luck!

emt_hawk
Aug. 22nd, 2011 02:21 am (UTC)
Yeah, but for most of them, they won't care enough to dislike you, personally. They'll be unhappy about having to do something, but it won't be you personally that they'll be pissy about.

It would be anyone standing in front of the class doing anything other than telling them that "You're all going to get A+'s, to make sure you balance your 'real classes', and I'm going to provide free beer and [censored] for the semester." that they don't give a crap about.

--Hawk
baronernst
Aug. 22nd, 2011 02:52 am (UTC)
I do so wish there was a LIKE button here.

FWIW - You've always had my respect...and my love. Have a great semester.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )