For most of my life, from when I was a kindergartner to a veteran high school English teacher, I’ve had a first day of school. While I’ve never been especially inspired by New Year’s and its resolutions, I’ve always fallen under the spell of back to school. As a student and as a teacher (and for two wildly hectic years, as both), the start of the school year has made me see stars of possibility, of all that could shimmer and shine.

Because I recently made the difficult decision to leave teaching, this autumn is one of the few in my life that I won’t be in the classroom; this back-to-school season, I’ve felt both relieved and a little disoriented. As unfamiliar as this experience is, I’m grateful for the opportunity it gives me. Now that I’m not a student worrying about my GPA, or a teacher improving previous years’ lesson plans, I have the luxury of directing all my hope outward rather than inward. I imagine everyone embarking on a new school year, dazzling in the light of all that could be.

First, I hope each Baltimore school community is safe this year. I want anyone and everyone who spends their day in a school building to be free from harm. Before, during, and after school — I just want them to be OK. I hope that as a city, we recognize that our school communities deserve physical, emotional and mental well-being. I hope we commit to ensuring they have that.

Beyond safety, I hope that our school communities will be supported this year. I hope they receive the resources — including time — to meet the multitude of demands they’ll face, and I hope they’re spared as much external pressure and interference from district officials as possible. Even though it feels like an impossible dream, let this be the year that school-based staff — especially teachers — are listened to, and given the breathing room they need to take care of what they need to.

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Speaking of teachers, I want so much for them. I wish teachers day after day of meaningful moments with their students. I hope their work hours are limited, as much as possible, to the hours they’re paid. I want their breaks from school to be nourishing and rejuvenating, without feeling that, by the time they make it to that short reprieve, they’re hanging on by a thread. I want teachers to be given the trust and autonomy to write lesson plans that both enliven them and best serve their students. I want them to avoid conflicts with the copy machine and technology, especially on the days they’re getting observed. I want them to get at least a few snow days, or, at the very least, delays.

Most importantly, I want teachers to take care of themselves: first and with fidelity. So much falls on their shoulders, and so few people look out for them.

As for Baltimore’s scholars, I hope every single one — from those starting pre-kindergarten to finishing high school — thrives this year. I want school to be a place where they know they belong, where they’re loved just as they are. At the same time, I also want school to be a place where they feel safe being challenged, encouraged to take risks. Grow. This school year, I pray that Baltimore’s youth feel proud. Confident. Capable.

I realize how lofty these hopes sound, how much it seems like I’ve floated away from reality now that I’ve left the classroom. But they’re all true. And I’m sharing them here, earnestly, honestly, because now feels like the best time. Baltimore is once again at the start of something new. The beginning of the school year is a chance not just to imagine, but intend. Possibility feels like it’s at its most ripe. I hope so much that our school communities, our teachers, our students, will be able to be able to make the most of it.

Happy New Year, Baltimore. I’m rooting for you.

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Kerry Graham is a Creative in Residence at The Baltimore Banner.