Why I Hate the First Day of School

Monday, August 29, 2016

I love, love, love teaching, but I hate the first day of school.  I surely wish we could fast-forward to mid-September.  We'd all be comfortable with each other, we'd be teaching academics instead of rules, and for goodness sakes the supplies would be labeled and put away.  I breathed an audible sigh of relief today once I managed to successfully store the umpteen tissue boxes my parents graciously sent in.  I mean that "gracious" sincerely; I'm so fortunate to work in a school where the parents care, support and donate more than we even ask for.  But for today, it's a lot to sort out!

I generally have a good sense of time without having to look at a clock.  I think it's a teacher superpower.  But on the first day of school, I haven't the foggiest notion what time it is.  9:30 feels like 2:30 and suddenly at 2:30 I realize I haven't even told them what's for homework.  And the idea of students not coming to the classroom until the usual time in the morning?  Understandably, that's a joke.  I get it- parents want to walk their kids in, but why do I still think, in my head, that I have until 8:05 to get prepared for them?  I was just starting to write on the whiteboard this morning while going over some last minute things with a new co-worker when they made the announcement they were letting the kids in.  My co-worker literally went running out of my classroom mid-sentence, blurting, "I still needed to pee!"  And it was on... 

I am also fortunate in that many of my parents label their kids' supplies for them before they even send them in.  You'd think this would make desk organizing a cinch on the first day.  But, no.  Apparently which folder is for which subject is a potentially life altering decision.  It takes forever.  Today, I finally put a time limit on it and said, "Okay, shove it all in your desk.  We're moving on!" Last year, I actually had a student ask me to help him sort his folders into rainbow order.  This same child couldn't have told you where even one of those folders even was one month later.  

I'd be curious to know if any school has ever gotten every child home correctly on the first day.  If so, they deserve to go ahead and call the first day of school the last and close down for the year, because they have arrived-- THAT is a school of perfect staff members, parents and students.  I'm pretty sure it's a mathematical impossibility and we're all just rolling the dice each year hoping we aren't the lucky (guilty) ones with a stranded student or two.  

There are many petty reasons I hate the first day of school, but the main one is deeper than that.  These kids aren't "mine" yet.  They think they want to be, and I know they already are, but it takes some time to sort it out.  I've read their files, but that doesn't tell me what I really need to know.  It takes time to learn their idiosyncrasies and their fears.  I don't yet know their strengths so I can work to bring them out.  I haven't yet figured out what makes them laugh or how they look right before they're going to cry so I can try to stop it from happening.  I can't wait until the time I really know them and they are more than just a name on my roster.  

Sometimes this takes a couple of weeks and other times it takes more like a couple of months.  Based on the comfort level I felt in my classroom today, I'm thinking it's going to go quickly this year.  I hope if I've learned anything in these past ten years, it's that-- how to make kids feel comfortable from day one.  Because really and truly, we all hate the first day even if we love school.  It's boring, it's long, it's awkward, and there are a lot of menial tasks to accomplish.  But it's also necessary so that we can enjoy days 2-180 living, laughing, and learning together.  Bring it on!  


It's That Time

Tuesday, August 16, 2016
This morning I woke up at 6:30 and couldn't go back to sleep.  I'm not a morning person so that can only mean one thing-- it's time to go back to school.  If you are a morning person and can't use the fact that you're all caught up on your sleep as a sign that it's that time, there are others:

Your car always looks like this.  You are constantly caught in a tug-of-war of whether to unload your car before your husband comments and knowing as soon as you unload, you'll feel the need to fill it back up with another haul.

The nightmares begin.  It's open house and you don't even know what grade you're teaching.  It's the first day of school and you aren't wearing a bra.  Or maybe it's the week before you can get back in your classroom and the mess you left behind is haunting your dreams.

You are torn between acting professional again and continuing your summer revelry.  A perfect example happened to me yesterday while I was trying to focus on completing a presentation for a workshop I'm helping lead next week.  Guess I won't have time to catch 'em all after all...

When you do return to your classroom, you are hit with the odd realization that just last week you were eating Pringles on the beach, and now you are wrapping that same Pringles can in contact paper.

Your texts to your husband have changed.  Instead of asking if he'd like to meet for lunch, all you want to know is what plug should go where so that you can avoid the "catching your classroom on fire" nightmare.

Last, but not least, you finally feel an urgency when you look at that bag of school stuff you brought home to work on this summer.  Now that you realize planning the whole next school year might have been a lofty goal, it's time to at least look at the first couple of weeks.

Ready or not, it's that time!  We can't deny the signs, nor can we deny that excitement that creeps in when we first walk back into our classrooms, whether we want to admit or not.  That's how we know we were made for this!


Wedding Planning

Tuesday, August 2, 2016
I sat beside a 23-year-old fifth grade teacher at summer staff development today.   One of my coworkers sat on my opposite side so we were catching up and I didn't pay much attention to my other tablemates at first. Then I heard a snippet of conversation from my other side as an exasperated voice said, "It was a rough first year."

At that, I turned and blurted, "They all are!"  She looked at me, wide-eyed, probably wondering why the weird middle-aged teacher felt the need to butt in so I looked her in the eye and repeated myself. "They all are.  All first years are rough.  Mine was so rough I quit."

"Really?" she asked.  I told her yes, really.  Then I said, "I thought I wanted to be a wedding planner." She laughed and said she'd been considering event planning herself.  What is it about first year that makes us feel like we'd rather deal with bridezillas than ten-year-olds?  In some ways, teaching isn't that different from wedding planning.  You've got moody, opinionated clients with their anxious yet well-meaning parents.  You've got to decorate, dress, and sketch out every detail...and smile no matter how far the people and circumstances around you veer from the plan.  And at the end of the day, all you really want is a drink.

However, as tempting as it may feel sometimes (especially at the end of that first year), wedding planning and teaching are not the same.  Those moody, opinionated clients?  We have the chance EVERY day to make their day--not just on one day.  Plus, their minds aren't all the way made up yet-- we get a chance to shape that.  We've got more important things to discuss with parents than timing and centerpieces as work together to find out what makes their child tick and who they really are at their core.  And yes, the plan rarely goes the way you want it to but unlike on a wedding, we get re-dos every single day.  There aren't many jobs that boast that opportunity.

I looked that girl in the eye today and spoke from my heart. "Just don't.  Don't quit.  You'll regret it."  As I encouraged her to stick it out, I felt like I was talking to a younger version of myself.  I wish I had listened to the people who tried to tell me, even though taking the long way did ultimately make me a better teacher and person.  It's always hard at first but it DOES get better.  I'm ten years worth of proof.

I closed with, "If it's in you, you can't run from it." She smiled and so did I, as a couple of other teachers nodded in agreement.  That, I know for a fact, because I tried.  I'm so thankful it doesn't work.


Best Year?

Monday, August 1, 2016
What is it about August 1st that makes us crazy?  Even though I supposedly have three weeks of freedom left, as soon as August hits, all I can think about is how I left my classroom.

And even though my mind should still be here...

Suddenly, the back seat of my car looks like this:

Teachers Pay Teachers is having a sale today and tomorrow and the online code for checkout is BESTYEAR.  Don't we tend to think that every year is going to be the best year?  The year I finally keep my desk cleaned off, the year I'll finally use the perfect classroom behavior system, the year I'll stay caught up on grading...   August 1st has me making all those resolutions in my head today.  

In reality, we can't possibly predict the challenges a whole school year will bring.  If ten years in the classroom has taught me anything, it's that.  The year you think will be the easiest sometimes turns out to be the hardest and you can bet the year that has you intimidated and scrambling from day one will teach you the most.  Just like in real life, all we can do is take it one day at a time. 

Last school year, I had big plans.  I changed jobs (same grade but AIG), took all the classes to become AIG certified online, started the year with a new principal, assistant principal and curriculum coordinator AND had plans to launch this blog and have my best TPT year yet. It became evident right away that AIG did not mean easier (it's just differently hard), grad school classes are no joke (even if they're online), and a school can appear to be the same but feel completely different when the office staff completely turns over (not bad different, just different).  Blogging and TPT took a back seat, as in that annoying little pop up back seat in the back of my SUV that hardly counts.  But this year is going to be GOOD different (I hope).  

Thanks for your patience as this blog has been way too quiet for its first few months and I hope you're ready to join me for a great school year.  I really am hoping it will be the "best" one, at least YET.  I'm making those August 1st teacher resolutions today and at the top of my list is this blog.  I'm ready to share it all with you: the good, the bad, the funny, the not-so-funny, the beautiful moments and the disastrous ones.  They'll be coming at us so fast we won't know what hit us before we know it!  But for now, enjoy these last few days of summer, even if your car is a little bogged down like mine.  That classroom can wait-- thinking about it counts for now!