Thoughts on First Days of School

If you’re a teacher then you probably know the book The First Days of School by Harry Wong. For some, it is a tradition to read it before each school year. This is the first year I have done it, though, and I’m glad I am. I skimmed/read the first 100 pages today. It’s cool because there’s a lot I do right and, the stuff I don’t do, or forgot, I can start.

First, I am resolved that I will always wear, at least, a pair of non-casual shoes. I can’t say dress shoes because right now I’m into my Dr. Marten’s boots. But, those look nice. Also, I will at least wear a polo or button-down shirt. I can’t see myself going to the tie. I think that, with teens, you can dress too formally and it puts a barrier up. I want to stick with business casual. It makes a difference. I don’t mean to be hurtful, but when I see teachers wearing totally casual clothes ALL the time, I just lose some respect for them. There are times to wear t-shirts, for example. Last year, I wore a t-shirt almost every day. But, I was the ASB Advisor. I was wearing school shirts for spirit, not my shirt I got on vacation last year. At very least, teachers should wear clean clothes in good repair.

I also am thinking a lot about my expectations for students. And for myself. I am very cognizant of the fact that I haven’t had a full slate of regular classes like this in four years. Don’t get me wrong, I can handle it. But, I don’t want that. I want to be great. I want every one of my kids to learn. I want every one of them to enjoy the class, to be inspired to think and communicate their thoughts. I want them to consider something new. I want to believe that I can do this even when they don’t, when they give up and when they fight back.

I know they will, too, many of my kids will come from homes that are less than ideal. Some will have absent parents. Some will have parents at home who ignore them. Some will have parents they they wish would leave them alone (and not in that teen drama way). Some will come to school having missed breakfast, and some will have missed dinner as well. Some won’t have a computer or Internet at home. Some will have had to work after school and into the night to help the family make rent. Some will be facing eviction. Some will be wondering if Dad will ever get a job again. Some will be in gangs. Some will act like they’re in gangs. Some will desperately need attention and some won’t know how to deal with me because their Dad left years ago.

So, I’m not naive. I know that chances are, many of my students will struggle. But, I hope fervently that the plans I have made for running classes will work. If it does, it means my kids will focus on learning. It will mean that they will choose to learn because they want to learn. It means that high achievers will be challenged to extend and push themselves and low achievers will get attention and assistance.

I’m doing this because, at worst, I will have to go back to the normal way I used to do it; the whole class working on the same assignment at the same time and, basically, in the same way. That’s not so bad. But, I think I won’t have to do that.

See, I have this weird feeling that it will work. It just feels right. My experience has been that children rise to the expectations we set for them. When you treat them with respect and push them to be their best then great things happen. This is not a wild-eyed theory, but my experience. My students in drama and in ASB did amazing things, in part because I didn’t allow them to settle for less or to believe that they couldn’t do it. And, I feel like everything I learned so far is pointing in this direction. I can put the kids in control of their own learning and give them choices. In the past, when I let kids critique themselves they were far tougher on themselves than I would have been. In their hearts, they know they can it, that they can be better than we think they can. But, first, I need to believe for them because many of them have had the world tell them differently. I will have to show them that they can learn, and, more importantly that there are things they want to learn.

I realize that I may fall short. But, right now, for the first days of school, I am going to believe all my students are going to learn, that they will like learning, that they will find something they love and be inspired to do more and be more.

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