Tuesday, October 19, 2010

You Can't Go Home Again

They Say You Can't Go Home Again

“They say you can't go home again.” These words seemed to float into my mind as I drove from the familiar parking lot I'd exited thousands of times before. The sentimental journey I'd just taken into my past was still evident as tears rose in the corners of my eyes. McKnight Kindergarten Center, the place I spent the first twenty one years of my teaching career, is now a Head Start Program. Once a building housing only five year olds, it has now become a home to threes and fours. To say I was emotionally impacted by my day of substitute teaching at the school where I began my teaching career in 1974 would be an understatement.

When I arrived, I found myself parking in a spot that used to be filled with large tires for outdoor play and I was immediately impacted by all the physical changes. Mobile units and other additional structures took the place of the playground facilities where I'd spent hours supervising hundreds of students at play. When I discovered I was to enter the building through the doorway that was my very first classroom, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I stepped into the familiar hallway and made my way to the office to find a friendly face and directions to my class assignment for the day. Suddenly, I felt transported back in time, picturing the former secretary seated before me tapping out a rhythm on the typewriter as I glanced to the left to see if my teacher mailbox was still there after all these years. Noticing the expanded principal's office and refurbished and redecorated surroundings had no impact on my journey back into yesteryear. My heart wanted to simply take a seat and continue my sentimental journey. However, I was forced to brush this desire aside and make my way to the mobile unit where I would serve about 20 three year olds for the day.

As I made my way down the hall, I reached the classroom door where I'd spent my last year before moving to another school system. Certainly, I'd have to return to get a closer look at the end of the day. Memories seemed to explode in my mind as I passed the classrooms one by one, mentally recalling my former colleagues. The cafeteria seemed much smaller than I remembered. As I approached the teacher's lounge and a supply room converted into a nurse's office, some amazing framed photographs of small children lined both sides of the hall. All the familiar faces I'd known as a part of the staff here are gone, but these welcoming faces of children instantly made me feel I was home again. I made my way to the mobile unit where I'd been assigned never only beginning to suspect how deeply this day would impact my heart.

As one by one, three year olds entered the mobile unit, wearing harnesses for safety on the bus and dropping their backpacks on the floor, I went into kindergarten teacher mode and found myself feeling an excitement and energy I have not felt for quite some time. One young fellow dissolved into tears as his mother exited the room, bringing back memories of similar experiences of first day kindergarten jitters. The first several hours were filled with activity as we served breakfast, monitored bathroom visits and teeth brushing. Then we came together for “group time.” I observed the children “watching me,” the newcomer, as we moved into “center time.” Having twenty five plus years of experience with five year olds, I understood the need they have for a familiar schedule and familiar faces. These are essential for developing a feeling of security. It was not until center time I saw some of their inhibitions fall away as several children began to ask me for help and invite me into their space.

Into the home center, block area and sand and water centers, little feet padded and little hands became busy with activity. “More bubbles, more bubbles!” insisted one little brown eyed girl with an impish grin. Two boys were seriously pounding golf tees into styrofoam with hammers in the block area as if they were on a crew building the Trump Towers. A feeling of contentment settled into the room as each child settled into his or her activity for the day. It was a sort of deja vous! I actually felt myself moving into another time period and connecting to a place in my heart I'd not known in years. Except for my times of play with my grandchildren, I'd forgotten how deeply I love watching children enjoy learning.

In the 70s when I began teaching, we called this type of learning a “developmentally appropriate” curriculum “Children learn through play” was the mantra we lived by as teachers . My heart swelled with emotion as I realized there was still a place where children were allowed to be children for a time. To take that away would be robbing them of happiness and joy and all it means to be a child in this world.

“Every day we are losing ground.” I'd heard these words before our day began. It seems the idea that small children need a time to pretend, observe, experiment, explore and imagine are in danger of disappearing even from the smallest age groups. As I watched small feet peddle tricycles onto a make believe highway at recess and felt a peace fall over the room as soft lullabies played in the dimmly lit room at nap time, I realized how deeply this philosophy of teaching was imprinted on my heart during my twenty one years on this same campus years ago.

The end of the day was filled with a flurry of activity as we helped each student pack his or her book bag and make their way to the proper bus. As I observed from a distance teachers and principal waving good by to their charges as the buses left the parking lot, I saw my own staff so many years ago, hands lifted in a farewell to the ones we'd poured our lives into each day. My heart made a simple wish. “May it always be this way.” The feeling that I had come home again completely overrode the physical exhaustion I felt from a day filled with busyness and activity.

As I drove away that day, I questioned the timing of my return and why it had taken me so long to find my way back to something that is so obviously part of the fabric of my life. “You can't go home again.” My curiosity got the best of me as to where this familiar phrase originated. As soon as I arrived home, I searched the Internet to find the following information from Wikipedia.

You Can't Go Home Again is a novel by Thomas Wolfe published posthumously in 1940. The book is a story of George Webber, a new author, who writes a book including frequent references to his home town of Libya Hill. When the residents of his home town discover the blatant distortions found in the book, George is the object of death threats and letters filled with the displeasure of his readers. The novel is held in high regard in other parts of the country, while those of his own town of Libya Hill are outraged. Wolfe explores some of the themes of changing America such as the stock market crash, the illusion of prosperity and the unfair passing of time. The title of this book, one of his more popular novels, comes from the finale of the novel. These words from Wikipedia express the thoughts of George Webber best.

"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."

The words “You can't go home again,” have come to symbolize the impossibility of returning to youthful memories or a former way of life. It also seems to remind us we can’t return to our place of origin. While I haven't read this novel, I beg to differ with the idea purported in these words. They seem to symbolize the idea that things must always grow and change and we should never look back on a former time or way of life. My recent experience, however, has made me completely aware that some things become eternal in the tapestry of our lives. Slipping back into a former time, a familiar place or feeling of being at home can ignite memories, dreams and visions long held in reserve for another day. As I close with a poignant memory of this special day, I am reminded of the hope we may find in going back home.

At one point in the day, I gently patted one little fellow's hand to reassure him everything would be all right. When his other chubby little hand came to rest on top of mine, I was moved to see he'd come to trust me over the course of this one day in his classroom. Though there are those who are interested in changing the system and bringing to an end the beauty of a child centered philosophy of education, children themselves will never change. The warmth of that moment will forever be repeated as long as there are small children and those who love them.

I believe you can go home again. Forms and systems may change and youthful memories may not permit you to recapture the original experience of what was before, but something in the heart of who you have become may catch a vision for the future and give you the hope to move ahead or a renewed passion to fight for what your heart believes to be good and true. Two opposing thoughts....“You can't go home again,” or “There's no place like home.” Like Dorothy, I choose to close my eyes to the negative, click my heels together and believe. Believing that though things are changing with a rapidity that seems to make our heads spin, some things are eternal and will forever be available to us if we are willing to allow ourselves to go home again.

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