Day one. I try to deny that I am excited to see the kids, but when I glance into the courtyard and see all of the sweet ones from last year, I find myself smiling. When I walk into the auditorium, a grim look plastered on my face, I am swarmed by the students I had last year, who tackle me with questions and hugs and force my smile to surface. I gather my class and eventually we head up to the classroom which was assembled by Ms. J and myself the day before. We sit them down and explain to them that the two fo us, as teachers, wanted to work together in order to make things happen that we hadn’t been able to do in the school in the previous year. We explain that they were our hand picked students – and looking around the room you see that most of them believe it. They are filled with energy, opinions and ideas on this first day.
By second period it’s as though there never was a summer – everything feels like a familiar routine. Even standing in front of a class, asking David to raise his hand feels like something I’ve done every day for my entire life. The kids are so familiar that it’s as though we never parted, and I wonder if summer has less of an effect on adults than on kids. When I was their age, a summer away turned teachers into strangers and evicted all knowledge of the previous year from my head. I likely couldn’t even list the members of my previous class. And yet as an adult, the first day back eclipses the months of rest, leaving me feeling mysteriously well-rested but no less submerged in the day.
I was worried about having the same kids 2 years in a row. It’s a challenge, to be sure. I had a close relationship with my students by the end of the year – close enough that they find it completely believable that they were chosen by me to be in my class this year. But also close enough that they come to tell me about the things that are happening in their lives that have nothing to do with class.
Some of them are very concerned about being in a class that is ‘special education’. I try repeatedly to reassure them that it is not special education, that their mere presence is evidence of as much. They pull me aside and tell me that they think that I should take the general education kids out of the class and just go – take them to a new room and teach them. I assure them that this won’t be necessary.
In fact, I really believe what I am telling them. They are upset about the math being too easy and I explain that we are giving something simple in order to see what level everyone is at. ‘Is it fair that last year in every class every person got the same work?’ I asked them, pointing out that the most advanced students sat bored for a lot of the time while the least advanced spent most of their time lost and hopelessly confused. They acknowledge that this wasn’t a good system. I assure them that we will be having level work, and groups that match their ability in every subject – that this is the advantage of being in this class, where they have the same teachers in the same room for ELA, Math and Social Studies.
The kids are great – energetic and interested. Of course, this is how they were at the beginning of last year, and I was lulled into complacency and being their friends. This year, I am more attuned to the things that rub me the wrong way, and less inclined to go with the flow. They don’t walk well in line from class to class – this is a problem, this must be changed. Someone is out of his seat unnecessarily, this must be changed. And so they won’t escalate into the problems that they were last year, because I can see them right now as what they might become.
I also realize that I have learned to listen in a new way. Last year, any noise or talking felt like an affront. I have come to be able to distinguish productive noise from unproductive noise, and pick my battles, which keeps my blood pressure much lower.