How To Think About The First Day of School in 2021
When I was in high school, I always wore a lucky shirt —one of my dad’s old button downs, a striped oxford — on the first day of school. It was a talisman against lunches alone, bad grades, and getting lost.
Today’s my 10th first day of school as an educator. It looks a little bit different. Or, depending on your time frame, it does not look different enough. We’re still wearing masks. We’re still fighting about masks. We’re still drowning in numbers and phrases that meant nothing to us two years ago: case rates, symptom monitoring, variants.
Still, I feel optimistic.
Luckily, there’s some research to explain the feeling. Katy Milkman is a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. She studies fresh starts. Here’s how she says people change.
The timing has to be right...There are moments in our lives that feel more conducive to change. I call them fresh starts.Whenever a new chapter opens, we feel like we have a new beginning and a fresh start. That causes us to step back and think bigger picture about our lives and our goals and what we want to accomplish. It also makes us feel like we have a clean slate. There was something we wanted to do or achieve that we failed to do last year say, and then along comes this fresh start. The start of a new year or even a new week, by the way, can be a fresh start. Or on the celebration of a birthday, a move to a new home or a new job. We feel like that was the old me. This is the new me, and the new me can do it. That increased optimism is one of the things that can propel us to change.
In other words, it doesn’t hurt to hope and believe. In fact, if you want to change, it helps.
So, if you are a teacher, a parent, or a Principal and you are tired, I understand. The past 18 months have been exhausting. Still, I hope you have a great first day of school.
For one day, I hope your kids will worry about who they’ll sit next to at lunch, what their teacher will assign for homework, and whether they’ll be able to find their classroom. I hope they tell you their day was fine before they head to their room and shut the door.
Perhaps, this year will be as hard as the year before it. Or, perhaps, it will be different. We’ll be a little bit kinder and more considerate — slower to outrage and quicker to understanding.
If it’s hard for you to feel like this is possible, try and imagine a student, wearing his dad’s old shirt because he thinks it will protect him from all kinds of things far outside his control. Try to remember that the polio vaccine took 20 years to develop and 8 years to be licensed for approval! We are not living in a nightmare; for generations of humans, we are living through an unfathomable dream.
Every kid deserves a fresh start. Every adult does, too. So, wear your lucky shirts, eat your favorite breakfasts, and take your back to school photos. It does not matter how today looks, as long as it feels like the first day of school. For everyone, I hope it feels like a fresh start.