You know the enthused feeling you have on January 1st (or 2nd or 3rd, depending on the degree of festivity you experienced on December 31st) when you are committed to losing weight, cleaning house, getting your life organized, quitting that bad habit, and generally being a lot more awesome? It is a terrific feeling with a lot of power. That feeling can drive you to lace up your tenny runners when temperatures are frigid and make grand plans of self-improvement and productivity with a vigor unseen in any other month. It’s a feeling of possibility, enthusiasm, and resolve.
As a teacher, my year revolves around the start of school. For the non-school going population, it is easy to forget how the start of the school year is the most important part of the year in many ways for students. For students, the new school year is like the new calendar year for the rest of the world. Some new clothes, fresh binder, unrumpled papers, recent haircut, and they are ready to rock the new school year. This is the year to nail that math class, talk to that girl, figure out what the heck to do with all the rumpled paper, and get one of those sparkly stars stuck to the top of a writing assignment. There’s a sense of bravery in the air as students consider trying out for that team, trying their hand at that instrument, and seeing what that club is all about. The new school year vibe is amplified by the buildup of summer vacation preceding it. There are lots of summer nights to imagine all the possibility ahead.
This feeling is not exclusive to the preppy or middle class. I teach lots of lower income kids from a wide variety of backgrounds and I think the air of positive possibility extends to nearly all students, even those who are disadvantaged and not sporting a closet full of new of the latest fashions or prescribing to mainstream culture.
This is all pretty powerful stuff. And yet, just like the rest of the enthusiastic New Year’s Resolvers, the enthusiasm wanes for many by about mid-March if you made a Resolution. In school time (which is not quite like dog time, but close) that is a by about October 1st. The backpack doesn’t organize itself, homework is hard, and parents are really good at putting the stop to an awful lot of fun. Classes are long, the seats are hard, and lunch break is never long enough. Just like those skipping workouts who were so committed to getting in shape in January, pupils are abbreviating their goals, and some are even preparing to throw up the white flag and beg for the mercy of Christmas Break.
This post is not for students and it is not for teachers. It is for the rest of you Wildflowers who know anyone going to school.
Tell them that they can do it. They can get along with their peers, they can learn that hard subject, and they can give up texting and TV for a hour or so in the name of studying. They can succeed. You don’t need to comment on their height (save that for everyone else), you don’t need to regale students with how school was for you (because that was a 100 years ago), you just should reassure students that they have everything it takes to be successful.
Kids have heard a thousand times that they should do all the things they should. They know that part. The spring in their new shoes has lessened and their handouts are all mixed up and it takes a really long time for the bell to ring and they need to hear that they possess the fortitude to stay the course.
You can also point out the positive. Ask about the classes, teachers, peers, and subjects they do like, the fun activities they might like to try and celebrate the relative successes. No big deal that they didn’t do well in the last unit, they can ask for help and do better this time around. Just as you might encourage your workout buddy that tomorrow is a new day, remind the student you care about that they can start fresh in the morning.
Relevant for nearly every kid is the need to be assured they look their best, they are bright and capable, and have clear strengths that all add up to a successful school year. Tell them they can do it, and remark on their height around the holidays instead.
How else can a Wildflower support student? Share in the comment section below!