How everyone can benefit from “back-to-school”

It’s back-to-school time.

I don’t know why that’s always so exciting for me—it means piles of grading, early mornings, missing grades in the grade book, parent emails, student excuses. But I’m an education addict.

Teaching might simply be a disease of the ego. I have an insatiable thirst to turn on the light bulbs in other people’s heads. I like to be the catalyst for creating lifelong learners.

Today marks my first day back as a classroom teacher in 7 years. I’ve been doing independent instruction, substitute teaching, and grad school in this space in between. In fact, when I gave up my high school literature and writing classes 7 years ago, I thought I was done for good. I wanted to focus on my writing career and maybe getting a masters’ degree.

I did. And now I’m back. I miss the kids.

I miss standing in front of teenagers who have no intention of liking what you’re going to make them read, and watching their brains ignite with questions, perspectives, and insights. I love helping them process how culture shapes values; I love watching them struggle to reconcile what they know with what they believe.

I love asking them if they enjoy poetry and watching their eyebrows pull together with the obvious thought: “This lady’s crazy.” And then I ask them if they listen to music, and I play a popular song on Spotify and point out all the literary techniques in it and tell them that yes, indeed, they enjoy poetry very much.  And their eyebrows unfurl and they sit up a little in their chairs. And they give me a chance to change their minds about poetry. And by the end of the year, there are a few really good poets in my classes and a lot of students who appreciate poetry, or who at least aren’t afraid of it anymore.

I love asking them if they’ve read Shakespeare and hearing their groans. And then I teach them all about the Bard and his theaters. I give them swords and funny hats, and they stand in front of their peers and read the lines; and within a few days, they’re arguing over who gets to be Mercutio or Brutus or Lady Macbeth.

The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.

C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
Click here to read a blog on education called “The Abolition of Man: i.e. The End of real education.”)

See what I mean? Humanitarian ego-mania. (Read “How to add value to someone’s life” here.)

If I lived in a fantasy sci-fi, perhaps I would be called “The Kingmaker.” Only I don’t want to make kings; I want to make learners. Because education builds the kingdoms of the mind and heart, upon which all other kingdoms are built. Good or bad.

How can everyone benefit from back-to-school time? If nothing else, it shows us 3 things that are critical:

  1. Learning is essential to personal growth. Not learning stagnates your life and narrows your perspective and understanding of everything.
  2. Change is exciting. Not changing is stagnation, not to mention the catalyst for stubbornness, narrow mindedness, judgmentalism, and criticism.
  3. Intergenerational relationships cultivate a culture of relevance, empathy, compassion, and growth. Not being in relationships with other generations makes you irrelevant, unempathetic, uncompassionate, and stagnant.

Being a “Learner-maker” is a challenging adventure. I take it seriously because pulling the blinders off students’ eyes exposes them to a world of possibility and calling. It’s releasing them from the fears inside their heads and welcoming the opportunities that God calls them toward.

So back-to-school time is for everyone. It’s a reminder that we all should continue growing and learning. We should all reach ahead and behind. We should mentor and be mentored.

Yes, you can keep shopping at Kohls and buying two of everything. Don’t wear anything uncomfortable. Buy those rubber-bottomed shoes.

But for heaven’s sake and the sake of the future, reach out of your safe space and into a younger generation and ask them some open-ended questions. Turn on some lightbulbs with “have you ever considered…?” and “what do you think about …?”

Listen to their perspective. Embrace their world. Share yours. All of us need you to grow so we can grow. That’s the real purpose of education.

picture of the author on the steps of a university
Smiles before the school year begins

Some additional resources:

If you have the back-to-school bug, you might enjoy these funny and sentimental snippets from my teaching life:

Or click on “Education” here and read about more serious topics about education and choosing schools. Keep scrolling older posts. There’s a lot here.

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