Last week I ran into one of my former students – we’ll call him Al. Al is one of those guys with a huge toothy grin and a sunny spirit; he’s so infectiously cheerful that it’s hard not to love him. He’s razor-smart, too, and I really enjoyed having him in class. We should all have more students like Al.
He told me he’d be in one of my classes this fall, and we discussed the adventures of registration and buying books. Then he lowered his voice and said, in a conspiratorial whisper, “I’m really looking forward to the start of classes; I can’t wait for fall term to begin.” Then he dipped his head and smiled sheepishly, as if he’d just admitted something really embarrassing.
I was always “that kid,” the one who couldn’t wait for the first day of school. It was thrilling to see the stores start displaying new school supplies; all those shiny new folders and pencils and pens, rulers and backpacks, writing pads and reams of paper. To me, that was exciting stuff, tools I would use to learn amazing new things. When summer began to wane, I was never regretful. I wanted to see my school friends and teachers again, and start the new year. I was saying just the other day: to me, a “year” starts in September, not January. The New Years’ Eve countdown doesn’t seem that meaningful to me – the year begins when the alarm clock goes off on the first day of school.
This has always been true for me, and it sounds like it’s true for Al, too. A lot of college students can’t wait for the end of a semester, for break, for graduation, but some of us have learned to love the university life. At some point, we grow into the identity of “scholar,” and are no longer embarrassed to say “I’m eager to learn, this is where I want to be. Here, I’m among my own kind.” In my experience, it’s often the students like Al who go on to grad school, and end up as teachers themselves.
Were you that kid who got excited about a new backpack, a new lunchbox, a new outfit to wear on the first day of school? I was too, and I still am. Friends will sometimes joke and call me “school nerd” or “poindexter,” but those labels don’t embarrass me. I love to learn, I’m owing it – and I hope that Al will learn to own it too.