Why do we say that you are going “back” to school? We know generally that it means returning, often to something familiar, going “back” somewhere and that is certainly one of the meanings when using the word “back” as an adverb. However, it also implies a past condition or situation and although we might hope for a new condition, we would probably not say that you are going “forward” to school. This set me to wondering how what we say influences attitudes and perceptions as in, “here we go again, same old, same old, very predictable and often not very exciting or engaging.”
There may be some comfort in returning to the familiar where you know the environment, the players and the program. You know the expectations, you know the rules and you know how to navigate through the system relatively successfully. Even in a different location, schools look and smell fairly much the same. The teachers and students may have different names but they act very much the same as those in the other place.
An alternative, an easy shift, would be to say that you are going to “start” school rather than you are going “back.” At least, there is the hope of a fresh beginning and not merely a re-tread of last year. As I have seen and talked with children in the past couple of weeks, I consciously asked when they were starting school rather than when were they going back to school. I know it’s a very small thing, and maybe it makes no difference at all, but it made a difference to me as I asked them what they were looking forward to as they thought about starting school. Kids tend to tell you the truth and if you go as far as asking them what they might like to change about school, they can tell you that too!
Here is one such conversation:
Me: When do you start school?
Me: You sound excited to start a new grade.
She: Yeah, I am.
Me: Let’s see, you must be about third grade?
She: No, fourth.
Me: So, you’re 9 years old?
Me: What are you looking forward to as you start school?
She: Seeing my friends and being in a new room.
Me: Do you know your new teacher?
She: She’s the same one I had last year, she’s moving up with us.
Me: Is that good?
She: Yes, I really like her and she has lots of fun things for us to do.
Me: So going to school and learning can be fun?
She: Oh, yes, and there is so much to do, lots of different things.
Me: Is there anything you would change about your school?
She: Yes, I would have it be longer.
Me: You mean you would like to go to school more days or longer days?
She: Uh, I think more days.
Me: Well, you are a very lucky girl and it sounds like you will have a good year, at least I hope so.
She: Bye, I have to go now.
Just a couple of minutes of a conversation while we were sitting in an airport and this girl was the oldest of three children, mom and dad holding the other two, babies, in their arms with a large stroller in tow. I watched the interaction between parents and children – loving, adoring, calm, focused, and all three kids reflected an early air of confidence and security. My hunch is that this 4thgrade girl is going to have a great year, that she is a happily engaged student and if I were her teacher, I would certainly love to have her (and her parents) among my class. We would have a great start to a new year.