As a teacher the year begins weeks before I ever see a student. They begin to creep into my consciousness in August. It begins with bulletin boards usually. I find myself on the patio sipping iced tea or on the hammock reading a book when suddenly the thought of color schemes and clever headers seems to overtake my train of thought. The dreams begin soon after, usually I dream they’ve removed the numbers from the rooms and I am wandering aimlessly down the hall worried because I’m going to be late. I begin to think again about the travels of Odysseus, about what I’d have done in Hamlet’s shoes. I find myself turning toward the fall in much the same way I turned in May toward summer. Why is that?
Why do so many of us turn away from what is happening now and move, at least mentally, into the impending future? I do this in my writing too. When my son was 8 or 9 I wrote poems about him as a teen. I envisioned I am up to my ears in planning. him full of angst and struggling with racial identity long before either of those things crossed his mind. I suppose I thought if I envisioned the future I would be prepared for whatever was coming.
My mother will tell you that worrying is a weakness of mine, that I need to box things up. Every year my parents buy me a calendar about how to handle ‘worst case scenarios’ because they know there is something in me, and I believe many others, that fears being caught off guard. The gift is made partially in jest and partially because they know that I will find comfort in knowing how to wrestle an alligator or survive an avalanche, that for someone who is a natural worrier, escape plans are essential.
Next week, I will meet over one hundred teenagers for the first time face to face but in truth I have been preparing for them for weeks now. I expect the shy girl who seems almost pained to speak, the ‘look at me’ kids whose hands are always in the air, the ‘way-too-cool’ kids who wear indifference like a shield, and all the others who I have tried so hard to prepare for. But like the so many times before, they will not be what I expect. They will be better and worse and different, like all the other things I’ve prepared myself for.