Tomorrow I begin my eighteenth year of teaching. As I reflect on other first days, I frequently go back to other first days of teaching: starting on 9/11 in a second grade class just off of Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base in North Carolina, my first day teaching in a self-contained classroom in Rio Rancho, New Mexico with a wonderful assistant who knew more then than I will ever know, beginning the year as a resource teacher in Gillette, Wyoming. But this year, I am really focused on my very first teaching job.
On the Friday before school was to start, I was ready to sub for at least two weeks for a kindergarten teacher who had not yet arrived on Guantanamo Bay Navel Station in Cuba. She and her family were still in the States waiting for paperwork to clear and someone had to get her room set up. I was cleaning, setting up, and attempting to organize her room. I was covered in sweat and dirt, wearing gym shorts and a t-shirt when Mr. Johnson (the vice principal) and the principal walked in and asked me to sit down. I climbed off the desk I was using as a ladder and wiped my hands and face with a paper towel. No sooner had I sat then Mr. Johnson asked if I was ready to teach. Assuming he meant teach the kindergarten class, I said yes. He said, "Well, let's go see your classroom." I must have looked confused because the principal explained that there had been another fourth grader register which meant they needed to split the thirty-one students into two classrooms. Since I had applied to teach with DoDEA and was already on base, I was hired! (Yep, that was my interview. Rough, right!) We all walked to my room only to find it in worse shape than the one I left. However, the other teacher, Irene Rhyne, and her husband were ready to help me clean. The fifth grade teacher, Bev Zweibel, also helped. We spent the rest of the afternoon wiping walls, moving desks, and finding materials. I spent the weekend getting my room ready. I couldn't wait to start! My fifteen students showed up Monday not knowing the whole story. (Now, some will because we have reconnected over Facebook.) I had no idea what I was doing that first year. I was just excited to jump in and do what I thought the students would like and what they needed. Little did I realize, that was what I should have done. I met students where they were, built relationships with them and their families, kept them engaged, and read Harry Potter with them. We had book clubs and performed poetry for different audiences. We did science experiments. We took field trips to the beach, a pool, and across the bay on a boat. We laughed and learned together. Those students became my first kids. That year was amazing!
Why am I reflecting on that year so much now? Well, I am just as excited to start this year! I have spent the year learning and growing as a teacher. I have new ideas to try in writing and social studies. I feel more refreshed than I have after my last few summers. I will put these students first and do what is best for them. I will do what I know these students need by meeting them where they are and pushing them to excel. I will build relationships with them and their families, keep them engaged (hopefully), and read fabulous books aloud to them. We will have book clubs and read poetry. We will try some hands on science activities. We won't take field trips to a beach or travel by boat, but we will have fun learning. We will laugh and learn together. These are my new students and I know this year will be amazing!