Monday, August 30, 2004

First Day Stories

One of the reasons I love my school is that the first day feels like a homecoming, complete with smiles and some hugs from students and parents, and a really genuine warm feeling upon seeing my babies and how they've changed - and how they're just the same - and sensing their hopefulness about the year ahead, even those who didn't do too well in the past.

(Okay - eighth graders are not babies. But sometimes I feel protective of them in that way.)

The day got off to a rocky start. I arrived about 25 minutes before we were supposed to welcome students and parents in the school's auditorium, only to be met by the custodian and security guard, who insisted that we could not hold the event because we did not have a permit and that working conditions in the main school building were unsafe for the security guard to work, therefore she could not sign in parents. After some discussion, I called my principal (who was attending mandatory meetings at the Regional Office all day), and she spoke to everyone involved. Then our dean showed up and straightened everything out. We did, in fact, have a permit, but some miscommunication at the Regional or Central office meant that we had no security, so we could allow students in the building but not their parents.

We introduced ourselves to all the students and told them what subjects we'd be teaching. Spontaneously, the students started to applaud after each teacher's introduction! It was a nice welcome. We took the seventh and eighth graders upstairs and started classes, while the sixth graders got a somewhat more extensive welcome in the auditorium.

The building was hot and oppressively humid. Kids and teachers alike suffered. I didn't have to teach first period, but I was busy answering phones, making photocopies, and rushing around helping people solve various problems.

Second period, I introduced the school's core values, and we discussed them and generated examples and reasons why the values are important. When we got to "I learn from other people's differences," we talked about the many ways we widen our own experience by being open to learning from those who like different things or are from a different culture. Then I asked if the students knew what really big event was going on in New York this week, and most of them knew about the Convention. So I asked who knew what had happened yesterday, and most of them knew about the protest, and a couple of students had even participated. We talked about how people who disagree on political issues can still talk to each other and learn from each other, and how issues are sometimes portrayed as polarized, which blocks people from finding out more about other people's perspectives. I didn't promote one political view or another - although the kids were bursting to talk about the candidates and most seemed to be vocal Democrats! - but just expressed a wish that we could keep dialogue open. It was a fun discussion, one of those things you can do when you know a group of kids as well as I know our eighth graders.

Later, in our conversation about teamwork, we got onto the topic of the men's Olympic basketball team, which won a bronze medal. The kids were not happy about the behavior of some of the players, and so I helped them relate the team's problems to our core values. It seems that some of the players did not follow through on their commitments, did not do their best at everything they tried, did not act like team players, and were not open to always learning. They concluded that we could have won the gold medal if the players had been more committed.

The only problem with second period was that the kids were very high energy and very, very chatty, and I wasn't quite in my groove enough to crack down as much as I probably should have. I generally try to be very strict during Orientation, because it sets the tone for the whole year. The fact that the eighth graders are so comfortable in our school and with their teachers is a blessing - but it also means they are already pushing, pushing, pushing at the limits we set.

Third period, I gave the practice Intermediate Level Science Exam, just a tiny bit of it, really, the first section of multiple-choice questions. The multiple choice section of the test is what concerns me most, as I am fairly confident that my kids will rock the performance exam. I was gratified to find that the kids at least recognized which questions dealt with material we had covered in the past two years - and although I haven't finished marking the tests yet, seem to be doing better on questions about material we covered than on questions about material they have not yet studied. I mean, one would hope that would be the case - but anyone who's taught knows the uniquely blank stare students sometimes give in response to, "Remember this from last year (month, week, period...)?"

We sent the babies home and met briefly to discuss. Everyone was drooping, but positive about the day. I am excited about the rest of the week - but I am even more excited about the real start of school, about digging in to science content. I know the kids are going to love - love, love, love! - the things I have planned for them in Life Science!

And the other thing is - so far I have not had a single school-related anxiety dream! It could still happen, yes, but I feel confident about everything working out in a way that I never have before. Partly it comes from really feeling like a leader within the school, with so many new staff members looking to me and the other returning teachers for guidance.


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