i don't get them. i love students, classrooms, new people to engage with. i'm a little worried about the usual stupid stuff--it'll be the wrong room after all, i won't be able to find where i'm supposed to be, the copier will explode at the last minute & i'll be without syllabi--but thinking about walking into the rooms & facing the rows of faces i'll have to cajole & inspire & entertain all semester... nothing.
my first-year teaching experience was as a sixth grade teacher in a middle school in southern virginia. on the first day of class, the seventh & eighth graders, who presumably knew their way around already, went to homeroom to get started, and all of the sixth-grade students coming out of 4 or 5 local elementary schools who had never been in a place this huge before in their little small-town lives were herded into the auditorium, where the teachers sat in the front row, facing the stage, not the students. we had not seen class lists. they had not seen names. none of us knew anything. the principal walked onto the stage, made some speech about a new school & a new year & new opportunities, recounted a few rules, and then one by one called each teacher to stand while he read off the names of 25 eleven-year-olds who, embarrassed at hearing their names (sometimes mangled) so loud in the huge hall, had to stand shyly and make their way out of the seating rows down to where this stranger stood. when all 25 were assembled, the teacher led them away like a row of ducks & he called the next one of us to stand.
when i led them to my room--this flurry of little people whose names of course i hadn't caught in the long, echoey reading of the list--i had not 55 minutes but approximately 5 hours of new time to fill with introductory activities and getting-to-know-you games. we'd planned things, of course--my "team" teacher in the next room had some 40+ years of experience at this and had generously shared everything she had with me, but i was nervous, they were nervous, i was trying to act both calming to the ones who were terrified & wanted to cry and in charge to the ones who had a whole group of friends in the room & weren't phased at all by my make-believe adult-status. i was 22, and some of them were taller than me.
after we'd managed the 5 hours--which included taking them on bathroom trips because they didn't know where it was, leading them to the cafeteria and eating with them, one of the school's practices that lasted all year, so there were no breaks in the continuity of 11-year-olds throughout the day, and leading them to their PE or arts classes at the end of my time with them (to a part of the building i'd never actually been in either), i had a few hours back in the classroom to straighten up, fill in the bulletin board i'd left blank with the art they'd created that day, put their names on the desks they'd been sitting in, since i hadn't known their names to do it in advance, wring my hands a little, and eat a peanut butter sandwich before all of their parents arrived.
in this particular county, "back to school night" was always held on the first day of school. so i spent several hours that evening meeting and greeting parents whose names weren't yet in any way familiar, whom i only sometimes managed to successfully match to the children i'd seen earlier in the day (who didn't come back to make the matching feasible), showing them around the room & trying for all in the world to act like i had any idea what i was doing. i was 22, & couldn't have projected "just out of college and clueless" any harder if i'd tried, and they pressed worries on me: michelle needs to sit by the door in case there's a bee. you're not allowed to keep epi-pens in the room, but if she gets stung, she'll die. matt's concerned about his weight so don't let the other kids pick on him. sherri wants to wear makeup but she's not allowed so call me if she's borrowed it from a friend. nicole must be allowed to go to the bathroom whenever she wants because she's started her period, and by the way she must succeed because she's going to college. chris isn't in GT because the testers are idiots, but he should be and i expect him to be challenged; did i mention i'm on the school board? because my "team" teacher and i had decided to make the kids' lives less confusing by only introducing them to one room and one teacher the first day, but the parents, reasonably, wanted to meet both teachers their children would be working with, half of these parents were the parents of kids i hadn't even met yet.
i'd just come from a middle-school ed program where, among the many incredibly valuable lessons we learned, we also had to return to those double-lined handwriting books to re-teach ourselves perfect school cursive to model for our students, and we had to learn to do it unslantingly on the blackboard. along with the parents came the special ed advisors, who let me know what changes i had to make in how i conducted a class i'd hardly begun to account for the needs of their students who were mainstreamed into my room; david couldn't read cursive, so i was only to print on the board.
i left the school at 9:30 or 10 that night, knowing i had some serious planning and re-planning to do before i had to be back at 7 in the morning for bus duty, that i had to be back at 7 for meetings or planning or photocopying or bus duty every day but holidays until the following june. it was still august, and the sun still set pretty late, although it was dark by the time i pulled down the drive.
now, i'm facing a room full of adults, for a little over an hour, whom i'll be seeing exactly 28 times between now & christmas, & then most of them will never stop by again. my sixth graders lost salamanders in the aquarium, threw up in the trash can, bled on the floor, slammed doors, screamed in my face, cried, hit each other, mocked me, mocked each other, and in theory learned a lot along the way, although i'd be hard-pressed to prove it. although i loved every one of them (okay, except for the one i'm sure is going to be caught-out as a serial killer somewhere down the line) they wore me out and made me cry at least once a week--at least the weeks i wasn't crying because i'd done something stupid & gotten in trouble with the administration instead.
so this? yeah, it's work, & i put an awful lot in, & i care more than my students want to know & more than the bitter ones ever believe, but after middle school... (did i tell you about the kid, when i was subbing, who kept alternating between being out of my class because he was in juvie and chasing me around the room with scissors when he was back, trying to cut my hair, which i finally allowed rather than calling the office for help because i was trying to keep him out of juvie? or the 12-year-old who, with world-weary eyes, offered me sage advice about how boys who weren't mature enough to handle eye-contact really weren't ready for sex?) ...this stuff is nothing!