Nine years ago, I was a brand new teacher on my first day of school. Like all new teachers, I was very nervous. I had arrived at school extra early to check my plans and go over my first day speech for the 100th time. We had read Henry Wong’s book in college and I knew how important it was to set the right example on the first day, to make every expectation of the student and myself very clear.
Then they came. Students flooded the halls looking for their classes. My heart began to race and sweat beaded on my brow; no turning back now. But then they all went into their first period classes and I was left alone; I had first period off.
All panic for nothing, as of yet. I was still so nervous that I decided to walk the halls to see what the other teachers were doing; to see if there were any last bits of wisdom that would help me get through my first day.
I saw what I expected to see from the teachers. They were setting the ground rules, going over what was expected of the students, and especially, what the students weren’t supposed to do: no eating in class, no leaving the room without a pass, no talking when the teacher was talking, no turning in late assignments, no admittance into class without a pass, no backpacks, no sleeping, no chewing gum, no getting out of your seat unless told to do so, no…
I heard a lot of no.
The students looked like zombies. I swear some of them even had drool on their chins.
Is this what I wanted my first day to be like? No. That was the last no I heard that day. Instead, my day would be filled with “we will!” We will have a great year, we will learn a lot, we will have fun, we will be challenged, we will grow, we will challenge ideas, we will do what is right for us.
My students weren’t zombies, we had fun. I still went over what I needed to, but they left my class optimistic about the year. I was told by parents at open house a few weeks later that my class was the one they heard the most about from their kids that first day.
There were plenty of times I needed to and did tell my students “no” that year, but I only had one chance to make a first impression and let them know how excited I was to be their teacher.
Let’s make the first day of school about all the possibilities the year holds, not what we can’t do.