Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The First Day of School: A Teachers' Perspective

"I was studying this man-almost all of us were-for the critical signs. We wanted to know what we had on our hands. What manner of man was this? What given the ongoing war of us-against-them, would we be able to get away with?"

Mark Edmundson; 2002, Teacher, "The First Day"

More stressful than a job interview, every teacher can vividly recall the first day they walked into their very own classroom.We become teachers with the intention of shaping the future, yet on that fist day of school when we meet the future, the future looks back at us with the most critical of eyes. They examine our figures, our clothing, our voices, searching for flaws, any sign of weakness to exploit for the benefit of their own entertainment.

I can recall my own student past, as a seventh-grader, listening to the smirking laughter of my classmates, when one morning it was announced our math teacher would not be returning to the classroom. Our obnoxious behavior had effectively driven him out of teaching. Rumor had it, he'd suffered a nervous breakdown, and needed to be hospitalized.

The law of the pack makes victims of whomever is the weakest. In the classroom, the victim is typically the student who is perceived as different, or weird. Occasionally, however, it is the teacher who is the weak link.So we prepare ourselves, toughen up our sensitive skins to repel the arrows of insult that will inevitably be fired in our direction. Those of us who have survived have learned a few techniques; self-depreciating humor, intellectualizing adolescent behavior, and learning to not take things personally. We have also learned that students will back off when they begin to respect you. They never respect teachers who disrespect them.

One early September morning in 1979 I walked into a classroom for the very first time as a brand new student teacher, and began my career on the shakiest ground any educator could imagine. (read the archived post here) In about two more weeks I will stand in front of a fresh group of teenagers, and while I will look over my new students, trying to size them up, they will be studying me, just as thousands of kids have done before.

What a marvelous opportunity we have as teachers, each year we have a new chance to make a first impression. I hope I have eventually become a little better at it.

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