by Matt McKinnon
Well, it ain’t what it used to be. The first day of school, I mean.
And I don’t just mean the back-to-school shopping, though that has changed a lot, to be sure.
We did most of ours online this year, since navigating Walmart.com is a LOT more appealing than navigating an actual Walmart.
And since many public schools have gone to uniforms, there’s not really much fun in back-to-school clothing shopping with the kids:
“How about the khaki pants and red polo shirt?”
“No, I won’t be caught dead in those.”
“Okay, then there’s always the red polo shirt and khaki pants.”
Gone are the days, at least for those of us in uniform schools, where back-to-school shopping was a creative endeavor to get the coolest outfits possible, actually enjoying the prospect of new clothes.
Toughskins jeans. Converse Chuck Taylor hightops (later surpassed by real leather offerings from Addidas and Nike). Cool football jerseys. A new jean jacket.
Man, those were the days.
And it didn’t cost $250.00 to fully outfit two kids for the entire school year. (Or at least until they get stains all over their shirts and wear holes in the knees of their pants. Do kids not wear patches on pants anymore?)
And picking out your clothes for the first day of school was just as exciting, and became even more important the older you got. After all, I had to make a nice impression on those 10-year old girls I was not going to talk to. Or even look at.
But now the shopping carts are virtual and the clothing is all the same: red polo shirts and khaki pants. Maybe shorts. If you’re feeling crazy…navy blue.
Of course, school supply shopping is still best done at an actual store, especially since the local Walmart and OfficeMax and Staples all have lists sent to them by the school district and even the local schools. And then there’s the additional list that the teacher sends out.
The cumulative effect of all this is that there are three lists for each of our two elementary-age kids that my wife and I have to carry around with a real shopping cart (the one with the wheel that won’t swivel right), juggling from one list to the other, trying to mark off what we have while we search for what we still need, all the while trying unsuccessfully to keep items not on the list out of the basket. (How we ended up with a “Duck Dynasty” pillow in the cart I will never know.)
Not to mention that our high school junior is too cool even to shop with everybody else, so we had to make a special late-night black-ops trip, just he and I, outfitted in dark clothing and sunglasses, so no one he knows will see him…with his dad…shopping at Walmart of all places.
And not to mention that the entire school supply deal set us back about $150.00. A hundred and fifty dollars?! For notebooks and paper and pencils?
Yes. And pens, and erasers, and binders in every size and color imaginable. And glue and glue sticks. And highlighters, and rulers, and note cards, and composition books. And more binders. And pencil boxes, no wait, they have to be bags with three holes to fit in the binder. And lunch boxes. And Clorox Wipes and Kleenex (are those really our responsibility? Whatever happened to that green stuff the janitor would just spread around on the floor when some kid threw up?) And we still can’t find any graph paper. Does Walmart have something against graph paper? Are American kids just not expected to plot graphs anymore? No wonder we’re falling behind the rest of the developed world. I bet they have graph paper in Sweden.
But I digress.
I’m not talking about any of that.
No, what I mean when I say that the first day of school ain’t what it used to be is that, as someone who taught mainly face-to-face classes for years but who now teaches entirely online, the first day of school just isn’t quite the same.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I am NOT complaining.
Just observing. (I tell my wife this all the time.)
There used to be a nervous energy about the first day of class—when that meant standing in front of a theatre-size room of 100 students or so. There was electricity in seeing the fresh faces of students experiencing their very first day of college, or even in the nonchalant smoothness of seniors who had waited until the very last moment to complete their GEC credit.
There was magic in the anticipation of how hard the course might be, or how boring the professor was, or how anything I was saying would have any bearing on anyone’s intended career.
I used to enjoy coming up with new ways to start the first day: by proclaiming to the class, for example, that the only thing I hated more than the first day of class was…the next day of class. Or by moving everybody outside to enjoy the weather. Or even sitting at a desk like everybody else: just sitting, waiting, and watching as the time for class to start came and went, and still no teacher. And then getting up abruptly, as if annoyed, audibly mumbling something to the effect that if nobody else is going to teach the damn course, then I might as well.
Yes, those were the days.
But those days are gone.
And again, don’t get me wrong: I am not complaining. Only observing.
I love teaching online, and have come to see what we do in the BLS program as not just a service to the University, but more importantly, as a service to students—some of whom may not be able to take classes or finish their degree any other way.
And my students, overall, tend to be older, more mature, more driven, and actually interested in what is being taught.
And there is certainly energy and magic in the first day, though clicking on a link to make the course available doesn’t quite compare to bounding around a lecture hall like Phil Donahue in his prime.
No; it’s just not quite the same.
Even though this year I tried.
I got a haircut. I took a shower. Heck, I even shaved, and thought about adding some color to my graying beard before deciding against it.
And then I sat down, clicked on “Make Course Available,” and…
Well, nothing happened. At least nothing spectacular.
For that, I’ll have to wait for the next 48 days—or however many are in this first session.
But of course, it’s not that bad…
After all, other than strippers, “escorts,” and the occasional politician, who else do you know can go to work not wearing pants?
Yes, there’s something to be said for the comforts of home.