Teacher Stories

The First Day of School-Autumn 2020

This is a continuation of my back to school story. To those who have been following along, Basil is alive and well. I am beyond glad to say, that sweet plant was a foreshadowing of our first week of school.

The weeks leading up to school was rough. Strong opinions expressed through social interactions added an elephant to the already heavy burden of returning to the classroom.

So this year, when I prepared for the first days of school, I braced myself for two situations.

Situation A: The kids would share my concerns. We hadn’t seen most of the people in the class since March. We didn’t have the end of the year have a nice summer closure. They didn’t get the end of the year trip, party, and walk beneath the linked hand tunnel. All led to a mutual, “What are my classes going to look like?” lingering over our heads.

Situation B: The kids have been on Twitter for the past five months and are primed to argue on the most controversial topics… and I’m going to accidentally step into a social landmine …and ruin everyone’s year. I know it sounds stupid, but this is 2020. Anything is possible.

I framed my classroom practices around situation A. Situation B was the material of the nightmares that woke me at one a.m. every day this week.

This is what happened on the first day of school.

The kids were taller.

Everyone wore masks.

The younger kids had problems finding their lockers. People scrambled to help them. The older kids clumped around the hall with their cups of coffee and gregarious banter. Others bounced from one conversation to the next. None of the kids commented on how the teachers decorated their doors with college regalia. I thought for sure they’d be impressed with my Louie the Lumberjack. Go NAU!

We couldn’t see the enthusiasm to return in their smiles. It was in their voices, their body language, and the sparkle in their eyes. They were happy to be back.

My heart settled. The normal superceded the unfamiliar.

Instead of talking about the class rules, I started my class with stories about my mask fails; like the time a kind lady advised me that mine was upside down. I thought the pointy end was for my chin.

Everyone commented on the awkwardness of masks.

When someone needed a break from the mask they pushed it aside. When they were refreshed, they put it back in place.

The sarcastic kid commented on something someone said. I replied, “You are saltier than a bag of chips.”

To which he replied: “What kind?”

All of us laughed when I said, “Salt and vinegar,” and he threw a victory fist bump in the air.

The familiarity returned. We remembered how to joke.

Then we talked about our routine. I complained about the lack of routine and the certainty that situations were going to change one as soon as it was set in place. I said to the salty kid, “I’ve missed your under the breath comments.”

He said, “You can hear those?”

We laughed.

And then we made a pact. This year, our consistency will be our agreement to work through the year together. If we’re having a bad day, we’ll figure out how to make it better. When we’re having a good day, we’re going to make sure and appreciate it.

Then we talked about rules and procedures and relatability. Because every first day of school starts with the rules talk. I ended class with what I call fist to five. I asked the question: How do you feel about coming back? They responded with a hand signal.

Fist: ๐Ÿ˜ฑ was a horrified face emoji

One- ๐Ÿคจ was a skeptical emoji

Two- ๐Ÿ˜’ meh emoji

Three-๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll be okay, but I don’t feel like smililng

Four- ๐Ÿ˜Š smile

Five-๐Ÿ˜ƒ enthusiastic smile

Every kid responded with a four or a five.

One drew me a picture!

I’d like to also point out that like most of my nightmares, situation B never happened.

This first day of school is different than all the rest. It is the first time, my mind is clear. It isn’t drowning in the ocean of I forgots and I need tos. Instead, I am fulfilling the promise we made in the classroom. Today was a good day; I’m appreciating it.

And so I close this post with two things. First, here are some pictures of our doors. Most important is my wish for you. May the days to come be filled with moments that validate your hopes can come true.

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2 replies »

  1. I am not a commenter – on anything. But I had too. Your post gave me hope. I’ve wondered for so long, “at what point do we go back, when is it going to be safe, or when are we just going to go with it and see what shakes out.” I used to teach at a university and am grateful that I don’t any longer because I don’t know how I would have handled my class. I don’t have kids, but I have friends that do. I know the superintendent of schools personally, and I don’t know how he ever gets any sleep. The news only reports the bad stuff. But this, this gave me hope that we will actually get through it. Even if this is the new normal. FIVE!!!!!

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