My first day in the classroom was terrible.
It wasn’t bad in the “I’m supposed to say I was bad because I can tell I’ve grown since then and I don’t want to boast” sense either. It was bad.
I had first period off (which is great any other day of the year for most people, but especially for this non morning person). On this first day, though, it just left time for the knots in my stomach to tighten themselves into even more knots.
As I was walking back into the main building to get some water, the power went out. I was going to get a day reprieve! We couldn’t have school with the power out, right?
My department head comes walking around the corner, and instead of telling me she would see me the next day, she said in a really positive, supportive manner that they were working on getting everything fixed up as quickly as possible and that I would do a great job and that she was excited to hear about how my first day went.
So I go back to my portable and begin to put on this ridiculous costume that I decided to use during my first minutes of teaching ever. On top of my uncomfortable shirt and tie teacher clothes I put on a rain jacket. On top of that, I’m wearing my graduation robe. The plan was for me to start with the end (graduation) in mind, then point to how I was going to be their guide on the path toward that goal, and then end with the realization that I was the teacher who could get them there. At this point, they would realize how much they were going to love me and this class, but things didn’t exactly go according to plan.
What actually happened was more like this.
I put everything on and began to sweat. Blame it on the first day of school or on it being MY first day of school or on not having any power on August 25th in central Texas or whatever else you want. Regardless of where fault lies, I’m really sweating by the time students arrive. Like beads of sweat I can feel. Not fun and not exactly how I wanted to start the day or my career.
I’ll spare you the details about the rest of the day and offer this summary: I pushed through the entire morning of classes packed with 30 high school juniors in a portable with no power for the video clips and slideshow I prepared or for the music I had carefully chosen to let them know I was someone they could relate to. Also there was no power for the air conditioning.
I remember sitting in the lunchroom thinking about what else I could do with my life. The morning left me embarrassed, frustrated, and pretty intimidated about actually coming back for day 2.
But I came back, and things got better.
My Worst Decision
I made a lot of bad decisions that first day, but the worst decision from my first day didn’t have anything to do with what all was happening or not happening in the classroom.
My worst decision was to sit silently by my peers at lunch while I felt so stressed.
Right there sitting next to me were the people who could help me most, the people who became my friends, the people who taught me how to teach.
And I just sat there and beat myself up. The story ends well, but on that day I felt like I needed to pull this all together myself, like that was what the best of the best did. I had convinced myself that this was how to make it.
The single best thing that happened that day was that a nearby teacher came by, brought me a Coke, and said, “How’s it going?” and talked to with me about how things were, in fact, going. Don’t get me wrong, ditching the outer two layers was clearly an important choice, but engaging instead of retreating was the best thing that happened that day.
Thankful & Restless
I’m incredibly thankful for that teacher and her willingness to sit with me on her first day back which we all know to be exhausting. Even if it’s the best, most welcome sort of exhausting, it is absolutely draining.
That solved my day one problem, but it didn’t address the motivation that drove me so far out of my comfort zone.
You see, I think I believed that I could make the magic happen all in those first 50 minutes. I had thought and over thought what I wanted for my students that I had convinced myself I needed to be someone else to make that happen.
I had convinced myself that somehow I wasn’t the guy for that job.
What a lie.
I felt woefully unprepared for all sorts of things that first day, but I was the one they picked to do the job. Not the best teacher I could remember, not me with more experience, not me with more answers or more confidence or more whatever. Me.
Before the day began, my biggest mistake was to believe not only that I could develop a lasting legacy with my students on the first day, but also that I needed to. That to miss that mark was to fail.
The more I think about it, the more I believe that our legacy as educators is built in community over time. That’s easy to say, but tough to do. Still, that’s our job. If you want to be the teacher who leaves an impact, develop a space where students can learn with you and their peers together. So how do we do that as teachers? How do we take 30 people and an adult and create a place where both students and teachers thrive? How do we get past the barriers that we put up, the things that make us feel safe? How to we press into vulnerability and let others see us for who we really are, not who we want to be seen as?
We do that together.
We have to be real together.
We have to be willing to learn together.
We have to be ready to act now (& probably fail some) together (both of them).
Think about who you can engage when school starts up–maybe even who you need to engage before it starts. Those little interactions–just bringing someone a Coke and filling the space with some peer to peer conversation–they can make all the difference.
And what’s on the line? If we get this right, all of those with whom we interact–our old friends, our new colleagues, and our students who will walk our halls and learn in our classrooms–they can all walk toward success knowing that we are walking through each trial that comes our way together.