For most Canadian students, teachers and parents, the Labour Day weekend is a mix of emotions. As the calendar is—reluctantly, for some— flipped from August to September, this three-day weekend is often filled with attempts to tie together the experiences of the preceding couple of months: family trips together, that summer romance, that summer job, playing outside until after dark, those special adventures that are made possible by the extended hours of relative leisure. All of this suddenly bumps up against the reality that, on the other side of the weekend, lies the First Day of School. In many households, the Night Before School Starts has all the markings of a religious vigil. There may be a special meal, special clothes laid out for the next day, some special storytelling and even a special bed time. And accompanying these external signs that mark the occasion, there are often internal cues as well. For many students excitement, anxiety, fear, hope, and anticipation are combined in various ratios to create a soup of emotion that is hard to explain but very easy to recognize. And if you happen to be part of a household led by one or more teachers, then the wonder of this weekend is even richer!
Labour Day has always reminded me of the highest elevation on a roller coaster—that point where everything seems to stop for a very brief time. It’s a moment of anticipatory exhilaration. Although in that tiny moment in time, you’re able to get a brief glimpse of some of the ups and downs, the curves and the loops that lie ahead, you also know that there is so much about what is going to take place that is out of your control. Physicists will tell you that this brief pause occurs just before the potential energy that has been stored during the coaster’s long climb up the hill is tranlated into the kinetic energy that drives the thrilling descent that is about to occur! There’s a rather ironic sense in which Labour Day represents that mystical transition between building energy and putting it to work!
For the Hurley family, we try to keep as much of our Labour Day to ourselves, resisting those invitations for dinner, a swim or a visit that were so freely extended and accepted during the rest of the summer. We have a special breakfast, try to get out into the woods for a walk, go and see a movie (it’s Planes, this year) and head home for a simple dinner and a bath before heading for an early bed. The early bed is important because we know that at least one of us will be awake during the week with the First Day Jitters. (In the past, that has usually been me!)
But just like you rarely look behind you on a roller coaster, Labour Day is mostly a time of hopeful anticipation. As I drag my body to bed, after a day of trying to squeeze that make the most of the last remnants of summer, and as my head finally hits the pillow, the sugarplums that dance through my head are almost always sweet. Tonight, they will be thoughts of the many educators that I have met over the past year in my travels across the country. They will be dreams of renewed conversations about transformation and change in our schools, of more powerful forms of engagement for both students and teachers. They will be hopes for strong connections between community and school. They will be inspired by SIr Ken Robinson’s continued plea for imagination and creativity and Ron Canuel’s consistent message of courage and conviction.
And just before I nod off to sleep, my final thoughts will likely be of Merrill Mathews, Mary Marshall and the staff of Irma Coulson Public School in Milton, Ontario. They have been working tirelessly all summer to get a brand new school ready for tomorrow’s opening. And they’ve spent their entire Labour Day weekend putting the final touches on the place where my family and I will be living, learning and growing for the next several years! On the one hand, it’s a rather personal example, but it’s also a metaphor for what I have come to understand about Labour Day: a time to think about brand new starts, new hopes and new challenges.
‘Twas the Night Before School Starts and All Through the House…
I would love to hear about your Labour Day rituals and some of the things that may be going through your mind as you and your family begin another school year? What are your hopes and dreams for 2013/2014? As an educator, are you using any new approaches or strategies this year? As a parent, is there a new program or initiative that you’re interested in tackling? As a student, is there a new challenge that you’re planning on taking on?