I’m a sucker for tradition. Maybe that is why I’m a history teacher. There is comfort in doing things a certain way on certain days year after year after year. It makes the cycle of our years feel rooted in something; candles on Christmas trees, turkey on Thanksgiving with family, lantern parades on St. Martinstag. And with schools, taking part in an old-established tradition makes you feel like a part of the school body and culture; it gives you a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself.
All schools have traditions. Some schools have winning traditions. Elite sports teams crush their opponents and fill up trophy cases while banners fly listing their consecutive titles. Some schools have First Day of School and Last Day of School traditions. And some schools create memorable events, most likely thought up as a “one off” but then, year after year, the event crept its way into the school’s calendar.
Growing up, all the best traditions in my school were rooted in Homecoming Week. In the United States this celebration, usually held in the fall, was to welcome back alumni to share in an assembly and a football game. The student body was deep in competition mode for the entire week. Each year group competed against the other in events throughout the week: dress up days, lip sync contests, parade floats, and decorating the grand stands. Life seemed dull at school when Homecoming was over, but it bound the student body together in tradition early in the year.
At the first school I worked at we had a few traditions as well. Some I loved, others I dreaded. At the first assembly of the year there was always the annual tug-of-war competition. The 8th and 9th graders battled it out to compete for who would battle the teachers in the next round. One year, after a vicious pull of over 3 minutes between the 9th grade and the staff, the rope broke!
The tradition I dreaded was the Fun Run. For weeks I hounded my students to raise money to win prizes. The money went to pay for sports programs that the district could not afford. This money was crucial to make sure that our students did not have to “pay to play”. At the same time this race asked students, who were already impoverished, to beg for money for sport teams on which they may never play.
My current school has numerous events and traditions, two of which I experienced this week: The Roman Triumph and the Goodbye.
As a culminating activity for our Rome unit, we take our 6th graders to the Roman Castle Saalburg along the Limes near Frankfurt.
This year the students were divided into Soldiers and Senators and then they competed in various events. They threw javelins, ran in a foot race, hopped in a sack race, built bridges and towers, and prepared and ate a meal together.
We then hiked them through the forest back to school, singing and laughing, where the Roman Army once patrolled the limits of their empire.
Once at school the students listened to a speech by two officials who debated the problem of whether or not Rome needed a dictator for life. The students then presented songs and skits to further add to the debate. There were scrapes and bruises, laughter and song, and memories that will last a lifetime.
And yesterday we said goodbye to our students. 50 years ago the teachers, already in the parking lot, decided to form a mass to wave goodbye to their students. The tradition stuck. As the buses loaded yesterday, teachers lined the parking lot for the farewell.
The river of buses filed through the tunnel of waving hands, honking horns and playing music. The children on board were smiling and waving, crying, or turning away from the celebration. This was the last look that some students would get of their school before they moved on to their next one.
So at the end of my first year I feel bonded to my school. It is steeped in traditions and events that bring our community together and make us all feel that we are a part of something.
What kinds of traditions does your school have? What are traditions from your school days that were your favorite?