Back to School goes Back to the Future

by Derek Holser, Tastemaker in Residence

In 1985 the fun film Back to the Future took viewers along an adolescent adventure involving family drama, time travel and most of all, the inner workings of high school drama. Between bullies, boring classes, and boorish principals, high school easily rivals any Greek tragedy. And don’t get me started on the cafeteria food. Even the chocolate chip cookies are bad. It’s enough to make you want to set a fire in the senior parking lot (please don’t). 

Back to the Future also propelled TV star Michael J. Fox into big screen icon, as he perfectly played the role of Marty McFly, son of uber-nerd George McFly. Marty was the cool, high school wanna-be rock star, and he inspired teenage boys all over America to don the sleeveless puffy vest, a sure hit for the Fall of 1985 Friday night lights, as well the quintessential spectacle of sports and style, Homecoming. In Marty’s world, it was the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. Of course, before getting to deliver a rousing version of the song Johnny B. Goode at the aforementioned dance, Marty had to help his Dad beat back Biff the Bully and avoid Mr. Strickland, the Superintendent from Siberia. 

By the time it was over, Marty helped his father be fearless, made a spectacle of Strickland, belittled Biff the Bully, and of course, got the girl. Through it all, from 1980’s to 1950’s and back again, Marty reminded us that while styles come and go, the perpetual yearning to fit in, but also to stand out, will never disappear from the human heart.

In two weeks, I begin my 20th year as a teacher. Every August feels like Back to the Future all over again. There’s an unsettled anxiousness as we anticipate the return to routine, the back-to-school shopping, the new kids, the old friends, and hopefully, the favorite teacher who makes the process worthwhile. 

Almost every person of great significance in our world can point to a teacher or coach who influenced them in ways no one else did and helped them become great. I have been fortunate to teach high school, second grade, and college. I have coached JV boys basketball, and elementary school girls basketball. I’ve even done a turn as a law professor. 

During the past two decades, in whatever classroom or gymnasium I’ve found myself, to whoever has been gathered to learn, I’ve been guided by the following truth:

Great teachers love their students just a little more than the subject, which is the only way to get the best out of both.

In just a few weeks, all over America, we will go back to the future once again. School will be in session. For teachers, I encourage you to take the words above to heart. No matter how many times your students fail to turn in homework, fall asleep in class, or make a bad decision, don’t turn into Strickland. Love them just a little more than the lecture, and you’ll be amazed by their engagement.

For the students desperately trying to fit in but also stand out, befriend the new kid, encourage the old friend, and forgive the bully. If you happen to have a Strickland at your school, bring him an apple, or better yet, a cookie. Here’s a recipe that will make even the meanest old codger grin:)