I just posted this at voicEd.ca as part of a month-long initiative to encourage folks to write a letter to a beginning teacher. I could have written any number of letters, but this is the one that emerged on the night before the first day of school! It would be great to have others participate, either in this space or at voicEd.ca You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in contributing.
I’m writing this letter on Labour Day evening. Our dinner guests have left, the dishes are washed and put away and my two boys are tucked into bed dreaming about their first day of school. These are the “in-between” hours—that brief breath of time that stands between the hazy, lazy days of summer vacation and the stricter rhythm of the school year. This is one of those rare moments when we’re invited to stand still and look around. On the left are the relaxing moments by a pool or a splash pad, the opportunities to stay up a little later, stay in bed a little longer and stop to actually smell the coffee a little more often. On the right is the excitement of beginning a new adventure, learning new things and jumping into a profession that, until now, you’ve only dreamed about!
Chandra, when you were a little girl, you used to play school in your backyard. The other children in the neighbourhood were your students and, when they couldn’t be found, you conscripted your dolls and stuffed animals into service. Teaching is something that you have always wanted to do and now, after what seems to be a very long journey, you have been given the opportunity to begin.
I was in your position once. No, I’ve been in your position more than once because, no matter how many years you’ve been teaching, the first day of school is always a chance to begin again—with fresh resources, fresh perspectives and new-found energy!
Tomorrow morning, a class full of strangers will enter that space that you’ve been busy preparing for the past week and, although you may have the entire day planned out in your mind, it’s probably best that you leave a little room for them.
In fact, it’s probably best that you leave a whole lot of room for them.
They’ll walk into your classroom tomorrow morning, full of life, anticipation and hesitation. Some of the children will be hesitant, others will be rather rambunctious. Some will be very compliant, while others will require more assistance in re-assuming the role of student.
But, more than anything, all of them will be looking to you for recognition. All of them will want to, quite literally, make themselves known!
There may be a youngster in the group over by the door—the one that is sitting quietly, waiting for instructions. Well, he’s also waiting for you to ask him about his hobbies. He doesn’t really like school, but he’s an awesome first baseman and, just last week, he made a triple play all by himself!
That girl that just doesn’t seem to want to stop talking can’t wait for you to ask her about her favourite band. She’s good at math, but she’s really into Classic Rock and dreams of having an all girl band.
The boy that’s sitting back in his chair is wondering whether he can trust that you’re not going to write him off like others have. He’s never been that good at school, but he comes every day hoping that he might get the help he needs. He misses his Dad who has been working in Fort McMurray for the past several years.
The girl sitting closest to you wants you to know that she’s on your side—she’s ready to give you a chance! She wants to be a teacher when she grows up and she’s watching your every move!
Each of those names on the class list that you were given when you left school on Friday represents a whole bundle of stories and ideas about the world and, although it will be impossible to get to know each of them fully, you have the unique opportunity to create a space where those stories and ideas are welcome, are nurtured and respected.
I know that you have curriculum to cover, progress to monitor and evaluations to administer but I want to tell you the one thing that guided me through some of the most challenging times as a teacher: Students will remember most those moments in your class when they felt that they were recognized—not for who you expected them to be, but for who they really were.
So, as you make your final preparations for tomorrow, see if you can leave some space to let your students know that you are interested in getting to know them—who they are and who they want to be. I think that you will find it space (and time) worth creating.
About half way through my teaching career, I discovered a phrase that I wish had been etched on my bathroom mirror that first day of school. As soon as I heard it, it totally changed my perspective. I’ll leave that phrase with you in the hopes that it might remind you about just how important you are to the children that you will meet tomorrow morning.
“I’m not who I think I am. I’m not who you think I am. But I am who I think you think I am!”
Have a wonderful day, a fantastic year and a very powerful career! You’ve been waiting for this!