Here in Santa Cruz the belladonna lilies (also known as “Pink Ladies”) are blooming. Their pink blossoms, borne on bare stems, pop up in the most surprising places. They poke through other vegetation in the garden, beautify vacant lots, and even the packed earth along a freeway on-ramp.
My friend and mentor, David Paine (retired Live Oak superintendent) told me once that the Pink Ladies always reminded him it was time to go back to school. Though the general public may think of September as “back to school season,” we educators know it starts much earlier.
Like the Pink Lady Lilies, teachers show up in August. We return to our classrooms, remove the dust covers, and begin setting up for the new year. Some of us try to slip in and out unnoticed by all but the hardworking custodians busily cleaning, painting and repairing our schools. Others like to wander the near-empty halls looking for colleagues to greet and catch up on the summer news.
Our creative juices start to flow, “This year I’ll try….” “I have this new idea….” The freshly sharpened pencils, new notebooks and clean classroom all seem to reflect the bright optimism in my mind and heart. August is when I am ready to try something new, eager to challenge myself. August is when I am fresh enough to imagine and create new units, new lessons, new systems for organization, new ways to make sure every child is included and valued. And since none of my ideas have yet seen the cold light of reality, all my lessons are brilliant and all my (yet imaginary) students are engaged and grateful for my hard work!
It doesn’t matter how many decades of Augusts pass, I am still eager and excited to stretch and improve my craft. Teaching is such an interesting hybrid of art and science; of data and heart; it’s academic and it’s social work; it’s management and it’s love. If we’re lucky, we are given the respect and autonomy to fully engage, using our professional judgement and experience to create a unique classroom environment in which to work for the year.
This August, I am anticipating a different role. Rather than creating my own classroom this fall I will be helping other teachers create their learning environments. And just like every other August, I am excited and optimistic. I can’t wait to meet the teachers who will take their passion for education and join their colleagues to improve their craft. Whether a teacher wants to expand their reading instruction strategies or set up classroom systems and procedures to make their school year more efficient and less stressful, I respect the initiative it takes to choose a professional development workshop.
Each Pink Lady I see pushing through the hardscrabble dirt in an unlikely place makes me think of the many teachers who push through obstacles to create success and beauty in even the hardest of circumstances. Like the belladonna lily, we are often neglected and taken for granted, but still we find the nourishment we need and bloom again each August.