The Long Haul

From now until Thanksgiving there are no school breaks. It is what one might call the long haul. If you glance around you’ll see teachers sitting down absorbed in syllabi, carefully planning how to make use of their time. There are a few sniffles around school since the long haul corresponds with flu season. Everyone’s been at school long enough to catch everybody else’s germs and bring in a whole new lot of germs as well. In a certain kind of place, the long haul could be miserable. But not in this place.

One of my favorite things to watch happen from September through November is the quiet ways students and teachers serve each other. I’ve seen students leave recess to go to the nurse because they saw their teacher on recess duty needed a tissue. I have seen a teacher coach students through best hand washing practice and make sure they all had full water bottles.

There is also something delightful in getting to be with a group of people for a long uninterrupted sort of time. Unlikely friendships spring up. The most rambunctious child in the class is suddenly seen watching a snail with the quietest, mousiest student. Suddenly old rivalries disappear as the prospect of the long haul dawns on students. “Sure”, they think, “we could be enemies cooped up like feral cats or we could be friends dog-piling like puppies”. One of those choices is so much more enjoyable than the other.

And of course, there is the mud! Mud is the delectable squidgy, gooey,  awfully wonderful stuff of childhood. I confess I’ve always been a bit of a mud fan. My grandparents used to take us to the park and turn us loose on the mud. Getting to see students make mud pies, castles, barricades, hanging gardens of Babylon and so forth is an absolute delight. There’s also “mud skating”. It is like ice skating, but you slide around in the mud with your rain boots. Not to mention mud puddles! Whole clumps of students throng together to step around in the puddles. Step not splash! For the golden rule of mud puddles is that one must not get wet and cold.

Of course, the long haul does not just happen outside. It also happens inside. Students settle into routines and classrooms become more like a microcosmic, carefully crafted civilization and less like a booming town in the Wild West. Everyone knows what to do, leading to an exponential increase in learning. Secure in their surroundings, students open up and start exploring new ideas all the while reconsidering their old intellectual stomping grounds. Suddenly students latch on to letter sounds and start blending them into words. Algebra becomes an extension of reason to students rather than an expression of arcane arts. Education blossoms as we are pressed to keep going and keep at the hard task of educating well.

One place where everyone is educated is through the church year. Advent approaches and reminds us of that immensely wonderful truth. God became man and dwelt among us. Getting this reminder nearing the end of the long haul makes the final push much easier. Advent comes to us in the school and reminds us of goodness, truth, and beauty beyond and within the long haul.

We’re not at school for the final payoff of Advent at Christmas, but we do get to see the school transform just before the fall term wraps up. The school Christmas tree glistens with borrowed ornaments from students, parents, faculty, and staff. Wreaths array almost every main door.

Just mentioning all of these wonderful things to come gets me excited for enduring the long haul. There is much to wait for and watch for. And yet much to enjoy now. From mud season on through Christmas, it is going to be a good fall.