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. 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.” The past condition does not now exist. It has all changed. You cannot go back.
An alternative would be to say that you are going to “start” school rather than you are going “back.” when the data says it’s safe to do so, At least, there is the hope of a fresh beginning and not merely a re-tread of last year. As I talked with children in the past, I consciously asked when they were starting school rather than when were they going back to school. I know it’s a small thing, and maybe it makes no difference, 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 before the Covid 19 crisis:
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 would have had 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) in my class. We would have a great start to a new year. We owe kids and their parents a safe return. Not so fast!