With the beginning of the school year around the corner, I have been thinking about my own beginnings in education.
I don't remember much of Kindergarten---couldn't tell you the name of the teacher if my life depended on it. I know that it was a half-day program and that I went in the afternoons. I remember the look of consternation on an adult's face when I didn't know my home address...and I remember how angry I was when someone wouldn't help me spell the word "really." Telling me to just sound it out made me even more pissed off. (Screw you, Whole Language.) There was a trip to an area pond, and of course, someone fell in. On those occasions when a child got a staple in their finger (which seemed to be frequent), they seemed to disappear into the top floor of the school. And they. never. came. back. The music teacher had butt-length hair. And I recall making a green Christmas tree ornament decorated with bottle caps and glitter. My best friend was Marguerite, who I have only seen once since then (and her Internet trail runs cold in 2001).
We moved twice after Grade 1---long distances and plenty of opportunities for firsts. New first days of school in new towns, transitions to junior high, high school, and college. Even my first day of teaching. But I remember nothing of any of them.
This has not kept me from reminiscing. I recently ran across this kid on Facebook. Well, he's no kid anymore, but it seemed right to send him a copy of the picture and tell him that his moment of joy had been inspiring me as a teacher for a long time.
When I think about starting my career in Carlsbad, NM, I can't say that the memories are unilaterally pleasant. There was the assistant principal who would read us the staff handbook nearly word for word during our August inservice days. Or the time I had flu and laryngitis a few weeks into the school year and had to drive myself to see that same principal (because I couldn't call him and he was the one who scheduled subs). The janitor showed up drunk at my duplex one night and tried to force his way into the house. There was a guilty sense of relief engendered when I found out one of my 18-year old ninth graders (you read that right), who was the bane of my existence, lost his life by wrapping his car around a telephone pole after taking a curve on a country road at high speed. (<----Candidate for world's worst sentence.) I remember getting the principal to sign off on a purchase order for the liquor store---because I had to substitute Everclear for ethanol in a lab. A man, who had just been released from prison, stood up and yelled at me during my very first Open House because I wouldn't discuss his stepdaughter's grade in front of everyone. (found out later he was sleeping with the girl...which is why he came to get her from my 6th period class early most days) There was a student, who on his very first day of school, came into my classroom, and started a fistfight with one of my kids---there were blood and teeth everywhere. I had a wannabe cowboy who once told me that the only way he would be quiet in my class was if I sat him in the middle of a "bunch of Mexicans," because he would never talk to them. (He left me speechless, too, with that observation.)
There were many more adventures that first year. It's a wonder that I ever came back for the second one. I was either really stupid...or really stubborn. Maybe some of both.
This year will be the first year in at least six years where I will have the same job as the previous year. This is the sixth year of this blog, and until now, I have had a slightly different position every single year. If that first year of teaching taught me anything, it was to stay flexible and that it's okay to live with uncertainty. I've been applying that lesson for a long time now, as I am about to kick off the 20th year of my career in education.
So whether this year is your first or your last, I wish you all the best in the upcoming year. Happy New Year to every educator. Remember that no matter what happens...the ups and downs...the number of good and bad days you have...that you can still choose how you remember these events.