They’re more than just butterflies. For most of the students I know the transition back to school doesn’t merely cause a gently uncomfortable fluttering in their stomachs. It’s more like a Molotov cocktail mix of emotion creating tumultuous explosions in their brains. While many of their peers experience a sort of nervous excitement at the beginning of a new fall semester, my kiddos are struggling with amped up anxiety that can be nearly debilitating.

Precedent (and I) reminds them they’ll get through this transition –again. They’ve managed. They have found success.

Still, this is not an easy time of year.

butterflyLong after I had no reason to worry about the upcoming first day of school, I still fought off flutters. Into adulthood I had dreams of roaming hallways, missing classes. Then it was the vicarious connection to my own children that left me sleepless before that first day of school.

In spite of the reasons she had to hate back-to-school, Alex has always been fairly unfazed by transition. When she was a toddler and I woke her to tell her we were going to Disney World, she didn’t miss a beat. Years later, when her little brother was given a similar sort of surprise, he kicked at the Contemporary Hotel room door in an effort to escape. Disney, Mickey and the whole army of animated friends he’d come to love were no enticement. He wanted to go home and sleep in his own bed.

For a lot of years, school was a sort of home for Michael. He was blessed with good grade school teachers who were more captivated by his intellect and humor than intolerant of his quirkiness. It didn’t last. An ominous sort of foreshadowing came when, with grade school in his rearview mirror, Michael told me that back-to-school was the time of year he stopped learning.

My students don’t always embrace learning. But their reluctance to reenter the rat race of college life often has little to do with what they are taught in the classroom. It’s all that other stuff.

It’s too bad they couldn’t step back and remember—if only for a second or two—that the classroom stuff is actually why they’re at school. Mom and dad and they may have too fully embraced the notion of an elusive “college experience.” Coursework and learning sometimes take a backseat to the life lessons college students are allegedly learning on campus. I’m all for some big picture ideals but what exactly is wrong with that other learning –you know, the one for which they’re paying the big bucks?

I’ve met all levels of learners and have seen the good and bad in educators. I sometimes harken back to Alex’s fifth grade teacher who was clear in her high expectations for all her students. She raised the bar and –regardless of their innate abilities—her students met it. They were often able to do better than they thought they could –probably because someone believed that they could, too.

I believe my students are ready and able—even if they’re not always willing—to succeed. I confess, though, that I have a particular fondness for the smart kids. (Did I mention that rarely do the smart ones receive the best grades? And no, I am not referring to Michael right now.) I cut some students a bit more slack than I should because I believe, in spite of much reluctance on their part and evidence to the contrary, they’ll get it. They’ll find something worth learning, whether it’s in or out of the classroom, and go full throttle in the direction of their passion. They’ll head toward an abyss of knowledge and plunge into its depths.

So maybe the students who are most frightened by the fall transition are dead-on accurate. Just imagine how scary it must be for them to stand at the precipice of their full potential.

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