School bells are ringing across North Carolina. And the wheels on the yellow bus go 'round and 'round. Something feels right with the world when the normalcy of school days begins. Schedules give order to the day. We finally stop hearing, "I'm so bored."
Some Moms find a little time to go to the gym. Other Moms find a little relief in the childcare issue of summer. The television ad of yesteryear showed parents wheeling through the Kmart singing, "It's the most Wonderful Time of the Year."
For most of us it is close.
This year some things are normal. School Supplies are stacked next to the Halloween candy. Paper, pencils, notebooks are piled high. Many teachers have posted classroom needs for parents to shop specifically for what is needed in a particular grade level. Kids get a new backpack and lunch box. This seems to be the idyllic back to school scenario, a little Ozzie and Harriet-ish. Because, while this may have been the scene for my children and their children, this is not the experience for many North Carolina students.
In a recent conversation with a mother of a rising twelfth grader, she said she thought her son was not ready for twelfth grade. She said he was a little immature to begin with, then the past two years of remote learning really set him back. Parents are anxious for what their kids may have missed that will never be re-captured. There is anxiety surely, but there are also lingering issues of inequity further exposed by the pandemic.
My high school was small. 38 in my graduating class. We never had to worry if our classroom would have a teacher. We always had books for our classes. Our principal was extraordinary. Our teachers stacked up with the very best. They were not threatened by angry mobs of parents, rather they were trusted to teach that for which they were trained and certified. We never had to do active shooter drills, maybe a few under the desk nuclear bomb drills. Our teachers did not think about bringing a gun or wearing a flack jacket to protect themselves against a crazed 18-year-old with an AR-15 showing up to massacre whole classrooms.
We had issues like racism, classism, poverty then, just like we do now. But there was not the deep grievance seeding free-wheeling anger. Problems today amplify those things that remain unjust among us. Every child in North Carolina may not have access to the internet. They may not get the books they need in classes. They may not get breakfast or lunch. They may not have school supplies. They may not have advocates to support them. I think we are learning that unresolved problems don't go away on their own.
News reports say that Wake County is short about 400 teachers. Teachers are leaving the profession and fewer students are going into teaching. Who can blame them? Nobody wants to teach among angry parents and intruders with guns. Teachers do not get combat pay; they hardly get enough take home pay to take them home. Nobody wants to teach in fear of physical or verbal assault.
Teaching has not been respected and rewarded in North Carolina. And sometimes the calling to teach is simply not enough. It's not just about pay either. Good teachers are often given the poorest performing students, the students with behavioral problems, the students of angry parents. It's wearying, especially when it's under-appreciated.
We all want our children to thrive in school. But when we question the effectiveness of public education, we home school, we charter school, we private school. Integration in the late 1960s saw white flight from which we have never fully recovered. I think in many ways we have abandoned the public-school ethic of every child getting an appropriate education. Public Schools may need tweaking, but they still may be the best bang for the buck in education.
I am a big advocate for public schools. Mother and my sister were teachers in public schools. I graduated from a public high school. Our kids graduated from public schools. I know for a fact that our children are our most precious resource. We know their basic needs. They need critical thinking skills, and they need to be able to read and master basic skills of math and science. They need to know history and art and music. And they need a qualified teacher in every classroom. A little teacher appreciation would be appreciated.
School has become too politicized. Politics has changed us. No wonder there is anxiety! Pandemic recovery on top of all the other stressors is a lot. There is much for us to address and until we do, our children will suffer the consequences. We cannot make pawns of the innocents. The joy and awe of back to school should be every child's experience. Nostalgia will not fix this. Neither will blame or guilt. This one is on all of us to get right.
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader and hosts the website: avirtualchurch.com. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.