Monday, August 11, 2008

First Day Back

I taught my 20th first day of school today.

I remember so vividly being literally scared to death in a room full of first graders on the first day of school back in 1988. I was so terrified that they'd be able to tell that I had no idea what I was doing. Much of the time I was figuring things out second by second as we went along. The benefit of teaching very young children like 1st graders was that they were every bit as scared as me. Somehow we all made it through that year, and I still credit much of my success as an educator to 5 veteran teachers, all long retired now, who walked me through that first go-round. I still use many techniques that I learned from those great teachers that year.

Now that I'm teaching middle school kids, I feel a bit sorry for young, first-year teachers who have middle schoolers as their first experience with teaching. These kids can smell inexperience and they feed on it. Like tiger sharks, circling their prey, they work the young teacher into a sort of frenzy until she completely loses her composure. The sheer enjoyment of
seeing her at her wits end, causing her to discipline them, makes up for any consequences she may exact on them.

We have a couple of brand new, fresh out of the oven, teachers in 6th grade. They are both well-prepared and incredibly intelligent, but no amount of education or depth of knowledge in a subject can make up for having a bank of experiences from which to draw.

Today, one of the new teachers came over to me at passing period and said, "Just wait until you get the group I just had. They were horrible! You should probably go ahead and make a seating chart for them before they get to you because I had to move several boys around and they do NOT need to be sitting together." I thanked her for the heads-up but told her it wouldn't be right not to give them the chance to screw up with me, proving that they actually needed a seating chart. She agreed but went ahead and told me their names. Turns out, I'd all ready had that group. And they were perfect in my room. I didn't tell her this because I don't want to discourage her in any way.

Inside I was giving myself a great big high five. I've waited years to be the sort of teacher whose very presence inspired a certain level of discipline. There's a confidence and a sort of air that surrounds a more experienced teacher. I remember admiring this trait in the teachers I looked up to when I was young and inexperienced. And now, I finally have it!

I'm not a heavy-handed teacher by any means. In fact, it is typically for me to be lifelong friends with my students, and I keep in touch with more of them than I can count. But, I do say what I mean and mean what I say, and the kids can sense this. At least they can now. Now that I've got the confidence of experience to back it up.

So, here's to a great 20th year of teaching!

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Anonymous said...

I hope it proves to be a great year for both yourself and your students.

And facing a room full of middle schoolers makes you far braver than I would ever dream of being. ;)

Allyson Robinson said...

Congratulations, Pam. What an accomplishment!

Inheritor of Heaven said...

Wow...good for you! In our wondrous state, it was decreed many years ago that schools shalt not start until after labor day (with some exceptions of course). So I will be starting my 27th (as near as I can recollect) year of before-school-inservice.

Have a great year.

kurt_t said...

We didn't have middle school in my day. We had junior high. 7th and 8th grade were junior high in California. And in Texas I think it was 6th, 7th and 8th grade were junior high. I was all excited about starting junior high because I'd seen the junior high yearbook for the year before I started (at Collins Junior High in Cupertino), and the theme of the yearbook was "We've only just begun." And on every other page or so was printed a line from "We've only just begun," you know, the Carpenters song. I just looked at that yearbook and thought "Wow! How grown up is that?!"

I think that was the same year I learned all the words to "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia."

Curlz said...

Congratulations!! Thank you for your dedication (all teachers need to be thanked). At the risk of sounding utterly cliche', it truly takes a special person to do what you do. The closest I've gotten is Sunday School, Youth Leader, Children's Church. I've often heard that middle school is the worst, but I like that age. Praying you have a great year ~ twenty years ~ Amazing!

Iain said...

I know exactly what you mean about a teacher having an air about them that commands respect.

I recall at my school the French teacher we had, who was a very tall, very English man, who had a superb French accent, was one you never ever messed with. And yet he virtually NEVER had to raise his voice. He remained calm, serene and authoritative throughout. This really impressed me and remains a perpetual mystery as well how some teachers do it - you just know you don't mess with them, and it's not fear that induces this state; it's an instant form of respect.

Of course he was a superb teacher as well.

Sounds like you too have reached that exalted, and quite mysterious (to me) state.