How it feels to be a teacher on the first day of the school year

It’s 6:00AM on the first day of the school year, and I’m tired. The sun is already up; the morning breeze blows through the window; the coffee is hot and ready; my lunch waits, already packed, in the fridge; my school bag sits, where it has sat all summer, on the stool next to the stairs in the kitchen. In almost every way, today looks and feels like the last day of the school year just ten short, sweet weeks ago. I will go back to my classroom, and it will feel like I never left. I’ve rearranged the desks, and put up a few new posters, and changed the date on my syllabus, and printed new rosters, but it mostly still feels like it did in June. This is what I’m meant to do, and this is where I’m meant to be, and the summer was great, and I’d gladly take another month off if they’d let me. But in the absence of such an offer, this is where I want to spend my time, in this room, a seeming extension of my home for the long hours and late nights I’ll spend here.

cartoonI’m both ready to be back, and not ready to be back. I know that if given the time off, I’d fill it the way I’ve filled the rest of my summer hours. Some days were productive. Rooms got cleaned. Closets got organized. Miles got run. Some days were lazy. Netflix got binged. Much wine was had. Books were read. Most days included some thoughts of this moment. What would I change this year? Who would my students be? How would I build the rapport that I had last year with new classes? How would I handle my overload schedule?

When I first started teaching, the new school year was met with a bevy of excitement and nervousness, a whirlwind of anxious and exhilarating energy that pushed me into my work headfirst without much thought as to the marathon of the school year. My first administrator watched me teach and concluded that I’d burn out in five years because I wouldn’t be able to sustain the kind of energy I projected beyond that. He was wrong in that I haven’t burned out, but he was right in that I don’t teach the way I used to. As a result, my back to school “vibe” is decidedly different. I’m excited about what I’m doing and ready to get back to it, but I’m also settled in, confident, and assured in getting the ball rolling on a new year.

Still I wonder about my students, and how they’re feeling today, and what kind of energy they will bring. I wonder if they look to the whole year stretching before them with excitement or dread. I wonder if they feel ready to start high school. I wonder if they feel settled in, confident, and assured, or anxious and tense over their new surroundings. I wonder when they will test me, because I know they will test me, but it’s also unlikely to be on the first day. There’s a nice honeymoon period that seems to come with teaching the freshman class during which everyone is on their best behavior and making the most of their fresh starts. That honeymoon can last weeks, or it can last days, and I wonder how this group will adjust and evolve.

cartoon 2What I do know for certain is that they will require a dichotomous empathy from me. Some will be ready to be back. Some have been ready to be back from the first morning they woke up on summer vacation and missed the structure of the school day and the social environment and the time out of their house. Some students’ most positive relationships come from school. Some students’ safest hours happen at school. These students need my energy and excitement. They need me to push out of my early morning brain fog and be sharp and caring and welcoming and excited to see them. Other students will want to know that I’m also with them. That getting up this morning was not easy. That I’ve slept in almost everyday this summer. That while I’m happy to be here, my mind is a little bit still on vacation too. That it’s ok not to be thrilled to be back in the classroom.

This school year, I will need to be a lot of things for a lot of people, most notably for my students. And that starts this morning. Day 1.

A lot can happen in a school year. A lot will happen in this school year. I wonder what the world will look like come next June. I wonder how many snow days we’ll have. (Is it bad that it’s only day one, and I’m already thinking about a snow day?) I wonder who my students will become. They’ll all be at least a little bit different by the end of the year. It’s likely I’ll be a little different too. I wonder what that will be like.

Dear parents, remember the deal we made at the end of the school year? I told you at the end of the summer, when you were tired and I was rested, that you could send them back. The time has come, and I am ready. They’re ready too, though they might not know it yet. Get them on the bus. Drop them off at the front door. Walk them to the corner (and then make sure the keep going towards the school building!). I’ll take it from there. But just remember, in nine months, tag…you’re it!

To the students headed my way this week, welcome. Let’s get this ball rolling. To the parents who sent them, don’t worry they’re in good hands. To my colleagues and fellow teachers, we’re all in this together, buckle up! And to all, a very happy first day of school!

Cheers!

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