A pre-claustrophobia nervousness settled over me as I wheeled my car into a space in the parking lot at Missouri Southern State University Monday morning.
It was the first day for teachers to report back to work in the Joplin School District and that meant the annual pep rally. In past years, the event was traditionally held in the high school auditorium, but that high school no longer exists, thanks to the tornado that hit our city May 22.
The second I opened my car door, I could hear shouting, intermittent applause, and music, punctuated by the pounding of a bass drum.
At first, I thought it was an early MSSU band practice, but as I took the crosswalk to the building where our district meeting was scheduled, the purpose of the noise became clear.
The sustained applause was for teachers returning to work. As someone who has written numerous times over the past few years about the constant barrage of attacks on public schoolteachers, this was a pleasant surprise.
Our community was showing its appreciation.
When we entered the auditorium for the program, we saw Gov. Jay Nixon standing in the wings. The rest of the morning is something teachers in the Joplin School District will never forget.
During that time, we heard a powerful rendition of the National Anthem by one of my former students, high school junior Hannah Cady, an uplifting speech by the governor, and the remarkable chronicling by our Superintendent, C. J. Huff, of how the school, the community, the nation, and the world, had combined to produce the miracle of a school district that had 10 buildings either destroyed or heavily damaged, starting on time.
We left the auditorium ready for whatever challenges may come our way as we begin the 2011-2012 school year. In about an hour as I write this, classes are scheduled to begin.
Some will be held in a refurbished building at the mall, some will be in buildings that have not been used as schools in a couple of years. Modular buildings dot the landscape at a large number of the schools as we open our doors.
The school where I teach, East Middle School, another victim of the tornado, has been moved to a spec building in an industrial park.
But it's school. The teachers are ready, and maybe for the first time after a summer in which everything has revolved around the destruction of the Joplin Tornado, the students are ready, too.
Three short months ago, we were looking at once proud structures that had been reduced to rubble by the fury of nature.
Today, thanks to school administrators and board members who had a dream, and to the people of the world who made that dream come true, school bells will ring again in Joplin.