The environmental timetables of Ancient Egypt don’t always align with my own.
I do not live along a river in the desert. Canals engorged with a scarce and sacred liquid do not slather their revitalizing refuse upon my baked fields. The crops which herald from the banks of the Nile are alien to our land. Yet, one garden in my life mimic’s the habits of old Kemet’s farmlands. It is concerned not with the vegetation we grow in soil, but with the blooms and buds of society and intellect. Despite our differences in latitude, the routine of the garden of my work mirrors the march of Ancient Egypt’s agricultural calendar.
Like the Kemetic calendar, the school year begins in August. With each Wep Ronpet (New Year), with each Zep Tepi (First Time), there is a fresh spattering of students. Though it may not be my first time, it will most likely be theirs. Each new class comes with its own obstacles to overcome and victories to herald. Past mistakes can be fodder for an improved performance on my part.
Just as a farmer readies the fields, so must you ready the learning environment: make last minute revisions in light of the classroom population, teach the procedures for daily routines, and set expectations. The start of the school year can be overwhelming. There’s a lot to document or discover: pre-tests to administer, reading levels to find, groups and materials to organize, IEPs to consider. Furthermore, students must have a sense of “ownership” in the classroom. This means introducing, discussing, and creating together those visual displays (e.g., a poster of class rules) and regular activities which will serve as tools throughout the year. It also means establishing community resource centers and areas for the display of student work. The first few weeks set the tone for the year. Students learn how to behave so that transitions are seamless and lessons are productive later. The first two weeks of school are largely for teaching procedure (from the teachings of the well respected Wongs (and this Wong, too!)). Easier said than done, but critical to success.
Akhet is the season of appearance. The fields are submerged beneath waters which forget their treasures upon the ground: black, fertile silt . In the first month or so in the classroom, you manifest your classroom community and environment. Your children’s most clearly observed needs, interests, strengths, and deficiencies come to light (which is not to say that they ALL come to light, but stay with me). You model how to act, speak, and feel. You attempt to make everyone feel included. BUT, you can’t take too long to drain the flood: time is valuable and there is NEVER enough of it.
The next season is one of emergence: Peret. Once you have deposited your silt and the waters recede, you slowly sow the first seeds with the first lessons, assuming little and explaining much. Then, when we know where we are headed and how to get there, we are on a roll. The seeds you plant will sprout; if they don’t, you have to decide what is inhibiting growth and resow. You must tend to your students as the delicate heirlooms they are: unique but also similar, fragile in some ways, resilient in others. Yea, things can get cray cray. But by now, you are really in the swing of things (ideally…hopefully…ok maybe).You diligently monitor the progress, keep parents involved (again…ideally), assess your own performance, and constantly remediate, enrich, inspire, and validate your students. Grow, my babies, grow!
And then, there’s the harvest. The Shemu of the school year is any point when you realize how far your students have come, but the end all be all is whether they have grown by May. Did they improve in the targeted areas? Did they meet your objectives? Did they pass? What did they learn, and what did YOU learn? Did your methods pay off? Come summer, there is a need for celebration and enjoying the fruits of your labor. You use last year’s reflections to revise your methods, and in the sweltering heat of the sun, you can bask in the shine of your achievements (or shrivel from the lack thereof). It is my nature to get restless when I’m not kept busy; by mid to late summer, I start to get restless. I ache for some sort of work, some nourishment. I wait for Sodpet’s promise of those waters to dump another load of silt upon my banks so that I can begin again.
Obviously, the analogy isn’t perfect. There are differences in the school year and the Ancient Egyptian agricultural year, but the spiritual journey is similar. It is true that during Akhet, the flood waters brought the hope of renewal, but the mixture of heat and water could also bring disease. We have to be flexible with this symbolism in some instances. However, the crop (or classroom) renews itself each year with a fresh batch of fruits and seeds, which may well go on to produce more seeds (i.e. have their own children). How you grow the parent crop influences the hardiness of their own offspring. Secondly, a large part of my identity is composed of the success of my career, and I learn a great deal of life lessons in reflecting on my attitudes and actions in that domain of my life. As Ma’at is reflected in the cycles of the year, I hope to manifest Ma’at in my classroom.
In closing, I must confess that in August (hopefully), I will have my first classroom. I have experience teaching–though it is minimal and largely academic or vicarious. Thus, the implications of this August are HUGE. Not only is it the start of a school year, it will be my own first official year as an educator where I am wholly and singly responsible for the failures and successes in my classroom. It is the Zep Tepi to begin all other Zep Tepis. It is the first beginning in a long cycle of beginnings.
****It should be noted that we can relive myths on the spiritual plane (and thus influence the physical world) when we enact myths through ritual. Thus, when we celebrate the creation of the universe at Zep Tepi, it is a literal start over–heralded by the rising of Sirius (aka Sodpet) and the (at the time) usually coinciding inundation of the Nile****