Surely I’m not the only teacher who starts the school year EVERY YEAR with more resolutions than every single New Years Day of my life put together. Are you with me? I get so excited about all of the POSSIBILITIES that this year holds, because suddenly, I’ll be motivated to wake up and exercise BEFORE school three—no, four!—days a week, pack a super-healthy lunch EVERY SINGLE DAY, grade ALL THE THINGS before leaving school ON TIME every afternoon, NEVER take grading or planning home with me, sign up for ALL THE COMMITTEES, wear all the nice clothes that never have my toddler’s peanut butter smeared on them, … etc. Right?
A new school year is truly a chance to start fresh, with new organization, new plans, new materials (if we’re lucky), new students, new ideas, new goals. One of the things I love most about the school year is something that not many people outside the academic calendar get to experience: it doesn’t matter how you may have fallen short last year, or how last year may have disillusioned you. You finished the race, and whether it was by dragging yourself in on your hands and knees or puffing proudly past the finish line in tip-top shape, well, it doesn’t matter because you get a chance to do even better this year.
And perhaps this is the key to getting off on the right foot with our students: they ALSO need to feel like they get to start the year with a clean slate. Yes, they probably did forget way too much over the summer. And yes, they come in with some baggage, just as we do. (And this, perhaps, is one of the downsides of having files full of documentation of each student’s every action that follow them from year to year. I really believe in giving my students a chance to prove who they are THIS YEAR to me without any preconceived notions.)
But our excitement at knowing that we get a do-over, a chance to be the best teachers we can possibly be for another whole year, well, the best thing we can do is communicate that to them. They, too, get a chance to start the year with brand-new goals, sharp pencils, an organizational system and study skills that still have that new-skill smell and haven’t yet been smooshed at the bottom of anyone’s locker. We should help them have the most positive beginning-of-the-year experience we can, so that they can ride that wave of good stuff as long as possible. After all, from my own experience I can tell you that if you don’t get off to a good start at the beginning of the year, it’s darn near impossible to turn things around halfway down the road.
I had a student who started in my class in the 5th grade, and throughout the 5th and 6th grades, he was just lovely. Studious, kind, funny, and personable with even the most lowly of his classmates, not to mention his teachers and administrators. And then, there was the 7th grade. I don’t know what kind of hormonal funk he was going through, but the 7th grade was a rough year for him—he had developed a smart mouth, blew off his homework, and was unkind to some of the other kids. His mom was as bewildered as his teachers were. So imagine my surprise when he walked into my class the first day of 8th grade and actually looked me in the eye and said good morning! Our conversation, while not verbatim, I SWEAR went something like this:
“Buenos días, señora.”
“Buenos días, Miguelito. I’m glad to see you again. Are you ready for this year?”
“We’re going to make this year a lot better than last year, right?”
“Oh yeah. I was kind of a jerk last year, wasn’t I?”
“Yeah, Miguelito, you were pretty weird last year. That wasn’t really yourself, was it?”
“No, I was really weird last year. But I’m better now! I’m back.”
And you know, he really was!
And if an 8th grade boy can recognize that he went through a funky tunnel and came out on the other side for the better, then I think pretty much anything is possible, right?
This year, my wish for you is that you can shake of any funk leftover from last year and start this year with renewed energy, a sense of gratitude and wonder, and a heart filled with joy, and that your students reflect all of that back to you tenfold… at least for the first week. 😉