Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Truth About the First Day

School starts tomorrow, and I went to the lake with my family this weekend.  My mom kept asking if I was sure I could pull that off and I kept telling her it would be fine.  Truth is I can understand her concern considering the way I’ve traditionally behaved on the weekend before school starts.  Truthfully, I’m not as far removed from those late nights, frantic lesson plans, and last-minute classroom décor projects as I’d prefer to let on as an “experienced” teacher. 

Tomorrow will be my tenth first day of school in the front of the classroom.  The changes in my preparation, expectations, and feelings toward the first day over the past ten years have been countless.  Don’t get me wrong- I still get an adrenaline rush when that calendar flips to August, and I’ve put in plenty of time and effort already this month.  However, my attitude toward the first day has evolved to put it mildly. 

As a first year teacher, I was terrified of how the children would behave in a classroom with just me all day.  Would they smell my fear and take over?  Would they throw spit-wads when I turned my back or mock me as I looked away?  How would I keep them quiet and on task, and would they take me seriously?  Please.  The truth is, on the first day, you’re lucky if they’ll answer your questions with more than one word.  It’s pin-drop quiet until you crack the first joke and even after that it’s like pulling teeth to get them to converse comfortably with you or with each other.  Nowadays, I long for mid-September when they’ll finally relax and be themselves with me.  No need to worry about anarchy on the first day.

A few minutes ago I remembered I never wrote my students’ names on the cute polka-dotted nametags I bought to match their desk tags last week.  Several years ago, this realization would have thrown me into an all-out panic attack.  I would have cursed my own lack of preparation and fussed to Brent about how I’d have to set the alarm clock fifteen minutes earlier to make up for my blunder.  Tonight I just sighed and thought, “Do they really even need nametags?”  Believe it or not, the first day of school will go on, with or without color-coordinated nametags that will be wadded up in the trash by lunchtime anyway.

In my early years teaching, I always worried I wouldn’t have enough planned for these first few days.  I made copies, stockpiled activities, and kept a couple of short videos and read-alouds in my back pocket just in case things went more quickly than anticipated.  What a joke!  Nowadays I know I’ll be lucky if we’ve made proper introductions, labeled supplies, and gone over rules by lunch.  Even the couple of days’ worth of activities I have planned could easily last through the week if I needed them to.  Time flies on those first few days!

If you know someone who is a beginning teacher, be kind to them this week.  When that bell rings and those new students head their way in the morning, they’ll feel apprehensive, unprepared and overwhelmed no matter how much preparation they’ve put in.  It’s unavoidable but the good news is, it’s curable… It just takes about half a dozen first days to run its course.  We’ve all been there, but tonight I’m feeling thankful that the tenth first day feels nothing like the first.  Bring it on, even without the name tags!

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