August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.- Sylvia Plath
For Leicestershire, staff return tomorrow, and Scotland are already back, navigating their way to finding a balance between caution and familiarity. Back to school usually calls for the revival of routine and revisiting old rituals: searching out work dress from a place closer to Narnia than reality; shifting breakfast a little earlier, as we work to remember what it looked like. Ordering, organising, the rearrangement of accessories that bring us back to professional. The crisper mornings come to our aid, a gentle push to put our summer frivolities aside and prepare for the assimilation of Autumn and all it means for teachers.
Usually, it means planners and new names; stationery and names around necks; the shrill ping of emails and shuffling back into the garments of the identity we thought we have forgotten, and yet it slips back over our shoulders like the loose, easy grasp of an old friend and as quick as it appeared, that unfamiliarity evaporates before we even begin to feel uneasy at it. In a morning, an hour, listening to the noise that the soles of our feel make to greet the defiance of a shiny corridor floor, it is as though we were always here.
Only, it’s a little different this time- because for some, it isn’t just a morning or an hour before it feels the same. It might be another day at home, or the first day of listening to that sound, or that the rushing waves of anxiety fill eardrums that the walk doesn’t hold that same singalong tune of comfort. It may be that they are a little further away, or their shallow breath distracts them from the return to the day, as they walk through doors using firearms and try not to think about the touch of whoever was there before. It could be that the bustle of staff rooms is a little muted, as voices sit in smaller rooms to speak, or not at all. There may be those that sit behind desks with pictures in heads of rehearsals for what will be in the coming weeks for some, a tricky business. Those who cannot wait for exactly that.
Those that work out new routines and rituals to bring them closer to that September feeling. There is this book they read. There’s this site they found. There’s this recipe for brownies that has a lot to answer for. Those that look around to see who is next door, or who whistles as they walked past, or where they might each lunch on that five period day in these last few months that promise outside lunch is still permissible, with a jacket.
And how long to wait for a bustle and buzz! Six months not six weeks without faces and voices and questions and answers and moments that to think back on and wonder – if it could be slowed down, would that spark have been spotted to the naked eye? With scratching pens in silence and pins dropped for break time and trying not to talk too fast when it’s your favourite part. That eternal flirtation with knowledge that keeps us coming back because it is never accountable in its commitment- did they get it did they get it did they get it? And we never know- and we don’t mind that we don’t.
Yet the narrative states that one cannot exist without the other- that unrest and verve cannot sit along the wire, hand in hand, each bubbling up at the other. When this is the flesh and bones of what it means to be within a school- that fear and energy stand at opposite ends of the pole, incredulous at the other with the same face. Grappling with teaching is to understand what it is like to stand along that wire, at each and every stage. Helping ourselves and one another, is simply to notice where the other one is standing. As we enter into this ‘odd, uneven time,’ we start by seeing exactly how uneven the ground is for others, not how uneven we think it should be perceived to be, and go from there.