Back to School

A flutter of feet that didn’t yet reach the floor swung from chairs in the back of Brickman’s Saturday morning. It was back-to-school shoe shopping central. Kids pulled off their flip-flops and Crocs and pulled on fluffy white socks for the first time in a long time, judging from the soles of their feet. The toughened skin underfoot was proof of play in a place where barefoot and beach-free is a way of life.

On Thursday these little feet walk into Island schools, some for the first time, most returning. Either way, and whatever their age, the kids’ parents — yes, those same ones who all August complained that summer vacation was too long, those same ones who sounded so exasperated trying to coax the kids’ feet into sensible, affordable shoes — will sigh inside as they entrust not just the soles but the souls of their children to the classroom.

It will be the teachers who calm their children’s hidden anxieties. (Did I wear the right clothes? Is my lunchbox lame? Oh, why did they pack me cucumbers? Do I have to sit next to her?) It will be the teachers who help them through the contradictions of childhood and adolescence. It will be the teachers that keep them safe and support them and show them how to hold fast to their humanity.

On an Island that begins to shrink as summer fades, teachers bear an even greater responsibility. Good teachers make the classrooms somehow bigger than the outside world. A startling lesson can change a student’s life. A good art lesson teaches not only technique, but vision. A good biology lesson teaches not only about our bodies, but that we are more than our bodies. A good lesson in anything challenges the student to challenge the teacher.

Teachers often receive gifts at the end of the school year. Maybe now is when they need them. Not soap or candles or Chilmark Chocolates, but a simple thank you and good luck.

Good teachers build the scaffolding for the architecture of imagination; with good teaching kids don’t need new shoes to climb to unexpected heights.