Monday, August 31, 2015

A Word Before School

It is the mark of an educated mind 
to be able to entertain a thought 
without accepting it. 


Well, I am here. I mentioned last week that I might not be, but how can I not at least show up for a few minutes to bid a heartfelt goodbye to August?

Since the beginning of June, I've been teaching Sunday school for the children aged two to three years. Our congregation has no shortage of children aged two to three years. I realize this is a blessing, but let me tell you, when they all leave after our forty-five minutes together, I'm like, Where's my robe?  Where's my crown?  

Yesterday I bid them farewell at the classroom door one last time & turned toward September, admittedly with a giant smile on my face. 

Next we chat, college football will be in full swing, & Reagan will be a school girl.

 It's all very official now:

While W.E.E. School did request a backpack with her name on it, there's not really a need for a lunchbox this year since she'll be done by eleven thirty. However, being a planner, I didn't want to take a chance on not being able to order the matching lunchbox this time next year when we're on the eve of Kindergarten, & so I went ahead & got the set.  

I waited & waited, knowing Pottery Barn would put their school stuff on sale . . . & then I waited & waited some more until the school stuff was on sale AND they offered free shipping. I cut it a little close on the timing, but it's here now & we're all monogrammed & ready. Hello, my name is Anna & I refuse to pay Pottery Barn's outrageous shipping charges

This blog is a blog in two parts. First, a photo tribute to summer, followed by a few words of advice for Reagan as she embarks on her journey as a student.

We lounged, we took a few selfies, & we frolicked at Nana & Papa's. It was a summer well spent, but the monogrammed backpack, the early mornings ahead, & Kirk Herbstreit's (admittedly baffling) high expectations for LSU football all point to the close of summer. On Saturday, I plan to wake to the Gameday desk; there's no surer sign that fall is indeed here than Kirk Herbstreit in a suit at nine in the morning.  

Reagan, I hope you enjoy school. I always did. I love being in a classroom. Ten years ago, in August of 2005, I was asked to teach as a graduate assistant. I'd never thought much about teaching in the college classroom, but with eighteen graduate hours behind me, I was eligible to teach as a grad assistant. For my service to the department, they picked up the tab for my tuition, which was nice, but no price can be attached to what I learned that semester as I juggled my roles as graduate student & instructor. The two semesters I taught while finishing my masters were stressful, but also incredible.  Daily I experienced the college classroom from both sides of the podium, & it was exhilarating.  

Regardless of your age, the classroom environment will always present you with challenges. I'm going to say something now that is a cliche (you'll learn what a cliche is in school), but it is so true: Challenges are opportunities for growth.    

Initially you may be challenged by other kids who want the seat you're in or the toy you have. There may be kids who simply annoy you, & you'll be frustrated because you're not allowed to just wallop them upside the head. If you're anything like me (or your father), you'll be tempted to lash out, throw things, & generally be the aggressor in these situations. Resist that urge.  

As you grow, challenges will continue, & they will increasingly be of the intangible variety, the ideological realm. Undoubtedly, you will share the classroom with peers & instructors with whom you vehemently disagree; I hope this will be the case, because it will mean you're forming opinions of your own. When you're challenged, you'll be forced to read & research & defend yourself & your ideas. Always, always do that, presenting what you find respectfully.

Having navigated the path on which you'll embark tomorrow, Reagan, here are my suggestions for success in school:

(1) Be yourself.  

Socialization is a major facet of school. You'll soon learn about the vast world beyond our house, beyond me & your daddy & Henry & your grandparents. Friends are a blessing, Reagan. Having a group of friends with whom you share interests & with whom you can simply have fun is a great thing, however, don't ever pretend you enjoy an activity or love a certain band or movie or whatever the case may be in order to try & gain acceptance from anyone. I know this is easier said than done, but trust me, the sooner you learn who you are & what you truly enjoy, the happier you'll be & the fewer regrets you'll have. Maybe one day I'll write you an essay titled, "Cheerleading: Thanks, but no thanks."

(2) Be a friend. 

You are a fortunate young lady, Reagan. You have two parents who love the Lord, love each other, & love you. You have a roof over your head, clothes & toys literally bursting forth from your closet, & while it takes some effort to maintain, you have your health. You will share a classroom with young men & young women who are considerably less fortunate than you. You may not even know the truth of their circumstances until years later, so just assume that you are the luckiest little girl in the room, & be kind to your classmates. Your kindness may be the brightest spot in their day.  

(3) Apply yourself & do your best regardless of the zeal you have for the subject.

Odds are you're not going to love chemistry. I honestly won't know what to think if you do, & I certainly won't be able to help you with your homework. Until you reach college, when your options will be innumerable & you can artfully dodge &/or test your way out of subjects you detest, you're going to encounter subjects that don't excite you. Do know that your lack of enthusiasm for a subject is in no way going to suffice as an excuse for poor grades. I know how smart you are, my dear.  You've foolishly revealed your wit to me, & my expectations are sky high.      

(4) Challenge yourself.  

Take advanced courses when they're available. Keep your grades up so that you will be eligible to enroll in these courses. My four years as a high school honors English student continue to serve me to this day.  I was exposed to so much fantastic literature. I learned how to write, how to research (& properly document that research), & how to think critically. 

As a bonus, I fell in love with Ernest Hemingway, & I have the collage to prove it. I made this as a junior in high school; it is, at this moment, at the top of my closet. Reagan, when you're older, if you read A Farewell to Arms & love it & write me an essay explaining Hemingway's (significant!) contributions to American literature, you may have this collage. 

There are four women to whom I can trace my love of literature, to whom I attribute my smashing success as a college English major: Annice Ernst, Dianne Graham, Mary Dawson, & Sue Clausen. If you're reading, ladies, thank you. Never doubt that you are anything less than phenomenal teachers.    I didn't realize as a silly teenager how wonderfully solid the foundation you were laying was, but I know now.  

(5) Read what is assigned to you.

Never wonder why you're frustrated in a class, why your grade is not what you'd like it to be, if you have not read the assigned material, be it a chemistry text or Great Expectations. You're unlikely to be a wallflower in the classroom, Reagan; it's not in your genes. You're going to want to participate in class discussions, to explain to your peers why their interpretation of a poem is misguided, or why Catherine Barkley is indeed a female character worthy of praise, & in order to do this, you must read the assigned material. Believe me when I say that it is incredibly frustrating to sit on your hands, mouth closed, as your know-it-all classmate yammers on about the assigned reading. You suspect she's way off base, but you don't know enough to comment & shut her down because you didn't read. Read the material; you be the know-it-all.

(6) Read more than what is assigned to you.

Develop a habit of reading something you select simply for pleasure. When you're out of school & all your degrees are framed & hanging on the wall, don't stop reading just because the deadlines have disappeared. I've found that when I think I am tired of reading, what I'm actually tired of is reading fiction, or nonfiction, or memoirs, or textbooks, or whatever it is that I've spent all my time reading lately. Change it up, even if it means reading something too embarrassing to add to your public Goodreads list, keep reading.  

(7) Cherish & be thankful for the learning environment. 

I am fortunate in that, in all my years of schooling, I had very few bad experiences in the classroom. Most of my teachers were good teachers who loved their subject matter & genuinely wanted to see their students succeed. I hope that's the case for you, Reagan. The classroom is such an enticing blank slate to me. Every quarter, or nine weeks, or semester, or year, or whatever the case may be, you have a new beginning. You meet new people, you learn new things, you build on the foundation you've been carefully laying, year after year.  

If you're like me, when you leave the classroom as a student for the final time, you'll be consumed with a mix of satisfaction, nostalgia, & sadness. Seek out classrooms throughout your life. After I'd been out of graduate school for a few years I joined my book club, & not a moment too soon. I realized I wasn't reading much, & one of the reasons for that was the absence of a group with whom to discuss what I read. It is agony to me to read something & then have no one with whom to hash it all out, to gush about characters, to argue over symbolism, to speculate about possible actors for the film version.  

So, that's it.  As a person who makes a lot of lists, I realize seven is a weird number, but I am tapped out at the moment; I have no more wisdom to impart. My mind is pretty solidly fixated on fretting about the A1C we'll be learning today, the agony of waking the school girl in the days ahead & introducing her to life on a schedule, &, well, Kirk.

Mr. Herbstreit has sky high expectations for my Tigers this season, & if I am honest, I think he's just flirting with me. An SEC championship, Kirk? Really? I'm blushing.  

I suppose I love college football for the same reason I love a brand spanking new school year: the renewed thrill of possibility.    


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