The first day of school is adorably confusing for freshmen high school students. One earnest young man had already come to my class twice before stumbling in five minutes late to his actual, scheduled English block, and two young ladies tumbled breathlessly into my room at the end of the day, explaining that they aren’t sure what had happened, but that they had somehow missed English. “It’s fine, it’s fine,” I tell them over and over, “everything is going to be fine.”
When it comes to the sophomores, the first day of school is a day for fronting. Last year, we wrote, read, made meaning, cried, hollered and sweated together, and we forged a beautiful community. This year, they swagger into school, walking bigger, talking bigger. I still catch them, though, sneaking into the seats at the back of my room, seeking comfort and familiarity in the little space we shared so much in last year. They’ll build new classroom communities this year, with different teachers and different classmates, but I hope they’ll still seek me out for a hug between classes or an early morning check-in. Do they know that I need it as much as they do?
Don’t tell the kids, but the first day of school is a day of fronting for me too, of putting up a façade that covers all manner of concerns. How quickly can I learn the names of my 120 new students, and can I do it without any of them feeling the hurt I used to feel when a teacher just didn’t seem to find me memorable? Will these students be kind to each other? Will I be able to push each to their capacity, or more importantly, convince them to push themselves to their capacity? Will I have the energy to constantly modify for each class as they need? I am certain of how I will begin the first week, what I will bring to our class, but beyond that, as the classroom shifts from my space to ours, the uncertainties loom large. Still, with a smile on my face: “It’s fine, it’s fine; everything is going to be fine.”
And it’s not all a façade. I know that the serenity I aim to project is not real — there are too many butterflies in my stomach for that — but I have every confidence in what I say. I want them to see me for who I am: a lover of language who believes wholeheartedly in revision as both skill set and philosophy. And I want them to trust that, because I also know that despite and in addition to all that my students bring into the classroom, who I am as a teacher can set us all in the right direction.
At the end of that first day, I shoo my new freshmen out with a final word of welcome, and one group of sophomores very special to me, my advisory, drop their own facades as we gather in a circle to check in with each other. Their exuberance at being together again makes me laugh, makes them laugh at themselves.
Just as we begin to settle in, Sabrina quietly opens my door. A thorough scolding from her peers breaks off suddenly as people see her face more fully, and we pull her right into the circle. Turns out, she’s come to say goodbye. Sabrina, my furious, militant, hate-this-school-can’t-stand-this-place advisee whom we had collectively melted into a student who genuinely loved her peers, who wore her uniform more often than not, and who finished most assignments, is leaving us. Her family is moving to Pennsylvania. She’ll be enrolled in a school there starting next week, but she came to advisory anyway. She came to see us, and to tell us that she’s nervous, but she’s going to try to be less angry next time. While we all have tears in our eyes, I am also smiling, because I know Sabrina’s going to be fine. And I know we – my new students and I — will also be fine, because she reminds me that while every year may start with butterflies, we will, collectively, go far between now and June.
Elissa Meadows is the pseudonym of a third-year high school English teacher in Brooklyn. If you’re interested in writing a New Teacher Diary entry for Edwize, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.