I am a regular reader of the comic strip Zits, which made its debut exactly twenty-five years ago this summer. Written by Jerry Scott and illustrated by Jim Borgman, Zits focuses on the experiences of Jeremy Duncan, a seventeen-year-old high school student. One of the aspects of this comic strip that intrigues me is how Jeremy relives his junior year in high school over and over again. Right around this time of the year, Jeremy finishes his summer job and then finds himself right back at the beginning of his junior year. Part of me wants to tell Jeremy to drop all of his AP courses since he is never going to make it to college. However, another part of me wants to tell him to make the most of this latest version of his junior year, for with each new school year comes a new set of stories. A new collection of Zits comic strips is scheduled to be released in September under the title of Binge-Worthy Zits For readers who want to know more about Zits, please click on the following link: https://comicskingdom.com/zits/about
As an English professor at the start of my thirty-ninth year at UNC Charlotte, I can relate to Jeremy’s situation. In the beginning of every fall semester, I have a sense that the grand tempo of my life is about to start all over again. For me at least, there is something reassuring about having the opportunity to come up with new variations on a familiar theme. Although the story of each school year has a similar overarching plot, the characters change, the details of the setting change, and in some ways my viewpoint changes. Such variations are what keep me reading Zits, and such variations are what cause me to look forward to the start of each new school year.
I recently had a conversation with Scott Gartlan, the Executive Director of the Charlotte Teachers Institute (CTI), about how the start of the new school year shapes the lives of teachers here in Charlotte. I enjoyed hearing Scott’s thoughts on this topic, so I asked him if he would share his insights with the readers of my Storied Charlotte blog. Here is what he sent to me:
A song that really resonates with me this time of year is called “September Again” by Brooklyn-based, synth-pop band Nation of Language. The lyrics set the stage for a remembrance of things passed – “So you go back to church to reclaim the feeling, you say you don’t understand why” – and then leads to a somewhat underwhelming take on the passing of time – “And it’s September again, flipping through the same old books.” These rockers are questioning what it means that time passes and yet we return to places and experiences we’ve known for many years, maybe forever. These thoughts bounce around my head as I listen to this song sitting at my desk in August. I wonder how I can find that thing we once had but can’t always locate in our daily lives. When I listen to this song, I think of teachers and their students as they prepare for another year of hugs and tears, and hard work and triumph, all within the walls of their classrooms in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). I think the thing we all want to reclaim is that feeling of hope. Teachers give me hope. They give us that hope.
I direct the Charlotte Teachers Institute, something I’ve done for going on twelve years now. In my role, I get to interact and support professors at UNC Charlotte and Johnson C. Smith University as they develop and lead seminars for P-12 CMS teachers. These seminars tap into the content expertise and research of these professors while creating a safe space to discover connections in all kinds of classrooms, from those that teach the littlest four-year-old children in Pre-Kindergarten to the collegebound eighteen-year-olds. Over the years I’ve had the privilege to support 100 seminars led by more than 75 professors at UNC Charlotte, Davidson College, and Johnson C. Smith University.
Looking back, I ask myself: What keeps me coming back each year? My answer is the hope and love I see in the teachers each year as they begin a new school year. As one teacher said to me the other day about getting ready for school, “It’s a reset.” I thought of how much hope and optimism there is in that idea of resetting, starting anew. For this teacher, and many I know, this time of year is not about the “same old books” as a dry and boring thing, but rather a fresh start, a way to make a new path by growing and learning. Teachers are doing the same old things like setting up their classrooms, putting the finishing touches on their syllabi, and making sure everything is ready to go when school starts. But the same old thing is not the same old thing for teachers. I see them reclaim a hope for something simple and new – a student writing their name at the top of their paper, or successfully solving that tricky math problem. To me that represents seeing the best in people and with that brings an energizing and dynamic view of the world.
It’s a common thing to be overwhelmed and anxious when September rolls around. But I say: Look to the teacher for hope. Rather than bemoan the return of school when I listen to “September Again,” I am filled with the hope of a new beginning and the love that teachers give their students each day. So that is the challenge: see the world through the eyes of a teacher to find hope, love, and optimism.
For readers who want to know more about the Charlotte Teachers Institute, please click on the following link: https://charlotteteachers.org/ I know that the calendar says that January 1 rings in the New Year, but to me, it doesn’t ring true. To quote a line from a famous U2 song, “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.” I think for all of us whose lives are touched by educational institutions, the real new year starts at the end of the summer when the schools reopen. I wish everyone in Storied Charlotte (including Jeremy who appears daily in the Charlotte Observer) a happy new school year full of new stories.