After kissing my oldest daughter goodbye at 2 am before she headed off to Chicago for college, being left with an empty gas tank (and all the gas stations in town are under water because of the flooding from Irene), leaving my plan book at home, and not being able to access my emails where all of our schedules and locker numbers exist, I was thinking today shouldn't be the first day of school. It seemed too foreboding of bad luck and catastrophe. But then the students came in and breathed life into this empty building, and I was again reminded why I love the first day of school. My ten great things about the first day are:
1. A group of students stands outside my classroom door reading the thank you notes from the Holderness Town Library and the Joplin, Missouri Goodwill office in which our students' generosity from last spring is applauded.
2. A sixth grader looks down at his toes and back up the length of his body, and then says to me, "I just don't think I'm big enough to be in sixth grade."
3. Students arrive with feathers in their hair, pink stripes, darker colors, daring cuts...so bold and confident of their ability to be themselves.
4. When I ask my sixth graders how summer reading was--if it was too much--they yell in chorus, "No way!" One kid looks up at me and says, "I love the challenge. It was fun."
5. An eighth grader grabs me and says, "I can't wait to come to your class--and I have it last, just like last year!"
6. Our seventh and eighth graders walk in, sit down, and prove why looping is so beneficial. No introductions, no expectations, no testing boundaries. They know us. We know them. And we work--right from the moment they sit down.
7. I measure my advisees--some have them have grown 5 inches in the past year--but not only are they taller; their voices are deeper, their wits sharper, and their ability to express themselves clearer. It's amazing to watch this transformation that only occurs in the middle level grades.
8. An observer and future teacher who follows the students today to get a picture of what the first day of school looks like in middle school, comes to our team at the end of the day and tells us each teacher is so very different, but all the important things are consistent. In a private conversation, she tells me she's surprised that not one of us went over a list of rules during the day. "But respect," she says. "Each of you have said, 'Just be respectful.' Is that your only main rule?" "If you stress respect," I tell her, "everything else falls in line." And as I looked around my wing, I realized how true that was.
9. As I end my day with a four mile loop near the school, I pass a track kid running the loop in the other direction, with her brother in tow on a bike. We stop to talk, and the brother expresses concern about having to do poetry with me. But his sister says to him, "It's okay. Poetry with Mrs. Miller is fun. She makes it like a game...it's perfect for your brain." Thank you for that.
10. 5 pm and the building is empty--everybody has their rooms clean and isn't yet stressed about how to make everything happen. There is a sense of contentment in the air. The sky always seems to be crystalline blue on the first day of school, and despite the utter exhaustion that drives us teacher to bed early on this day, we feel satsified. This day is always a reminder of why we teach.