I stand in front of the mirror, a dry run for tomorrow, full-front, then turn to one side & then the other, smoothing out the wrinkles of my pristinely new dress. This will need to be ironed. Slipping the brown, flat, flip-flops on. No, the heals will look better even though they aren’t new. They’ll make me look taller. A taller teacher gives the impression of greater control. On the first days of school, it’s all about presence and tone. There’s something to be said about making a good first impression.
My book bag is ready. New multi-colored gel point pens. Folders of first week’s curriculum I’ve been reacquainting myself with. You’d think after eleven years of teaching the same courses, I’d have it all committed to memory. Not so. Mostly, I do, but I want to make sure I come off polished, not sloppy. Besides, I always change it up a bit to keep it fresh for me and, ultimately, them; if it isn’t relevant, it goes unremembered. New clips for holding large stacks of paper and plenty of white out (the school never supplies the good white out, it’s always the gloppy kind). And my IPad, including my rosters of names that usually take me no more than 2 weeks to learn. I direct my students to sit alphabetically, at first, to facilitate learning their names. Nothing more embarrassing than calling a student by the wrong name; I can literally see the expression on their faces, when I address them incorrectly, show signs of disappointment (eyebrows straight, eyeballs dilated, no curve at the edges of their mouths) imagining their stomachs sinking, thinking I’m not memorable enough for her to know. The truth its, it’s easier to learn the names of the loud ones, the odd ones, the uber nice ones before the others who choose not to stand out; if there is guilt to be had for succumbing to responding to certain stereotypes, I own it in the first weeks of school. Also, on my IPad is this new Planbook app I piloted for our school; I’ve been working with a beta group to test the compatibility of the Windows version. I like to be a pioneer.
The first day of school is hardly about that first day. It’s about the planning that begins weeks before. It’s about constructing each course like building a house. You need to understand what needs to be conveyed through the big concepts before you can plan out the details. It’s about creating an atmosphere that is a stimulating learning environment and slightly different than the year before, so repeat students don’t become complacent. Two weeks prior, I went into school with my daughter to reassemble my room. It’s important for me to have spaces that reflect who I am as a person and a teacher, but it’s equally important to have students spaces, so they feel welcome and comfortable there. In particular, they enjoy the colorful touches. The whiteboard paint in neon colors. The Expo markers of Caribbean hues. The college board, inviting students to write where they plan on attending complete with hash tags. I’m always proud, at the end of the year, when students tell me their college board in my room has the most names on it. Not for a competition or anything, but more to acknowledge my efforts in inviting them to take ownership of their space in my room.
When I walk in tomorrow, initially it will be close to silent. What stands out at first are the shiny floors and clean lockers which are like arms waiting for me to come in. Slowly, the voices can be heard. At first a hum, then so loud you could hardly hear yourself think, but it’s comforting to hear the laughter and see all of the smiles reacquainting themselves with one another.
I will wait in my room, greeting each student with a smile. My name written largely and neatly on the board to help them be sure they are in the right place. A bowl of Skittles will sit at the center of the round table in the front of the room. About half of them notice it; their curiosity already piqued.
I anticipate reminding myself that through all of the business and dissemination of information that needs to be dispersed, today, the most important thing is to convey my philosophy of teaching. I preface this by stating, “On the first day, I feel as if I’m vomiting information all over you. I promise every day will not be like this.” Then I continue, “This will be a student centered classroom; after all, you are the reason we are here. My expectations will be high but not unattainable, and I will be here to assist you achieve your goals in whatever ways I can. I don’t see teaching English as teaching students to learn to read or write. While you will be doing that too, the focus will be on using English to become a critical thinker. I hope to impart you with ways to be curious about and question your world, using different kinds of discourse as a vehicle for discovery– to discover new things about not only your world, but yourself and your place in your world.”
Yes, the anticipation is mounting. I can’t wait to meet these new young people with whom I will share my year. I know they will have just as much an impact on me and my thinking as I hope to have on them. I can’t think of another job I’d rather do. Second only to parenting, being a teacher, I believe, is the most rewarding job of all.