Five Observations While Coming Full Circle

This week I’m revisiting my schools in reverse order to record descriptive details that I couldn’t focus on while participating: students’ hair color, teachers’ vocal inflections, and so on. I went back to high school on Tuesday, middle school today, and am finishing up at elementary school tomorrow. The timing just happened to work out that way, but it feels right to come full circle and end in kindergarten where I began four months ago. Here are five observations so far as I return for a second round of reschooling:

1. I feel that I’ve neutralized the emotional charge that school used to have for me, and I hope it lasts. While I still feel compelled to help transform public education, I’ve come to appreciate the great things about my schools and have stopped dwelling on the not-so-great ones.

2. The teachers and other staff are always happy to see me and welcome me into their classes. Their openness and willingness to help me with whatever I need have astounded me. I’m grateful for their trust and transparency in letting me observe anytime. I’ve also had in-depth conversations with many of them, and it’s given me hope for educational change. Even though the school system needs fixing in many ways, teachers tend to have students’ best interests at heart. At least the ones at my schools do.

3. My experience of school is completely different now that I’m observing rather than participating, just like it was different when I was enrolled in school, and when I taught classes myself (summer and after-school writing). What I pay attention to has changed, as has my perspective on pedagogy and procedure. A friend pointed out that she’s experienced school differently as a counselor, and will again when she becomes a parent.

4. I’m so glad for my adult privileges. It’s come up a lot during the project that unlike the kids, I’m allowed to do what I want at the schools, when I want, now that I’m an adult. I’m allowed to leave in the middle of class, unquestioned, to go to the restroom. I can drink from the water fountain after recess for more than three seconds at a time (this practice, where the teacher holds counts loudly to three while each kid drinks and then sits down, makes me cringe). I’ve also had a stronger appreciation for school and my teachers now that I’m not being graded.

5. Food at my schools is stunningly cheap, and the quality high. I had a BBQ pork sandwich on toasted french bread at my high school that rocked my socks, and it was only FOUR DOLLARS. Today at middle school, I bought a sizeable deli turkey sandwich for $2.50. I happily told the lunch counter lady that these items are a steal compared to their counterparts in San Francisco, where the same sandwich would sell for at least $8, and the half bagel with cream cheese would cost way more than $0.75. More on food soon: I promised my friend Heather that I’d write a post on school lunches for her food blog, so that’s in the works. I’m planning to eat hot lunch tomorrow at elementary, so cross your fingers that it’s a good day in the cafeteria.

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Your Two Cents: Leave a Comment!

What has been your experience of schooling after you graduated the first time? If you’ve been a parent, teacher, counselor, grad student, etc., how did you see school differently when you were in this role?

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