Ready, Set, Teach! September 08 2009

I wrote this story a few years ago during a Writer's Workshop class. Enjoy!

I welcome the warmth of my decaf coffee on this cool, dewy morning.  Caffeine is unnecessary considering the adrenaline surging through my veins – it’s the first day of school.

My mind struggles to remember last-minute preparations.  Where are the nametags?  How did I do the lunch count last year?  Where did I set down the copies I just made?

I think it’s safe to say that most teachers do some kind of prepping during the summer; I believe my creativity is at its highest when I’m lying in the sun, skin browning and mind wandering. And after enough years of experience in an age group, I have a pretty good idea how I’m going to present curriculum. There are other factors, however, that need to be considered for a new school year.

First, I consider light; its beams are vastly different inside our classrooms compared to outside. Practice closing the blinds and basking in the splendor of harsh fluorescents.  Your skin will take on a sickly green glow, accentuating the purple bags under your eyes.  The only way to return your skin to a normal color is through the warmth inside of you. Grab that passion for kids and teaching that keeps you coming back year after year; it will sustain you in the flickering glare.

As your eyes adjust, train your ears to hear noises you have missed during the summer.  These include tapping, whistling, groaning, shuffling, whispering and laughing.  Train your ear to distinguish between productive noise and just plain socializing.  Noise indicates activity and learning, even interest.  Plan to hear such phrases as, “Oh, I get it!” and “Can we write longer?”   

Train your hands for challenging workouts.  They will be busy collating, gluing, cutting, stapling, filing and grading.  I always show evidence of marker stains, of the permanent and overhead variety, which rarely match my clothes.  Frequent hand washing helps lighten those marks as well as protecting our hands from becoming germ factories.  We need to take care of them, as they also guide kids through the maze of life while we learn together.

Our smiles are an integral part of who we are.  Practice in the mirror.  This will be one of the first smiles that kids will see each morning.  It will help you keep your temper on those more unpleasant days; for example, when someone accidentally topples the ant farm, you wore a navy shoe and a black shoe, a child goes home with lice, and you can’t find your aspirin. Your smile will not fail you, especially if you can clench your teeth while seeming to radiate sanity. 

Your heart will be tested more than any other part of your body.  Practice stretching it, for it will fill with pride as your students grow into the people they are destined to become.  Keep glue handy, as your heart will break for some of your kids as they suffer through circumstances we can’t control.  And don’t forget the passion you’ll feel that comes from loving what you do and the lives you touch on a daily basis.

A coworker yells, “Good luck!” as the front doors clank open.  Kids stream into the building, some bright-eyed with excitement, some yawning and skeptical about what you have to offer.

I set my coffee aside, flip on my unforgiving fluorescents, and stand at my door with a smile, ready to start a new school year.