Sunday, September 12, 2010


The evening before the first day of school, I had an important realization.

I was ready to start school.

A year ago, I was most definitely not ready.  Last year, my school was moving and nearly doubling in size.  We weren't even able to get into the building until a few days before school began.  When we got in, our rooms were empty.  The auditorium was strewn with old, broken furniture.  The gymnasium was a forest of stacks of boxes, and trash.  I didn't have shelves for my classroom, and had to scavenge for tables. I spent hours picking out unfinished shelves, getting them painted, and then going back three times to pick them up because they were never ready when they said they would be.  It was draining and infuriating and nerve wracking.

Last year, I spent days unpacking and trying to decide where things should go.  I didn't know my way around our enormous school building, which is about the size of a small city.  When I look back at my To-Do list from the days before school started last year, it is full of things like "Talk to the cafeteria lady about how we will get our lunches."  "Go look at the cafeteria to see where we will sit." "Decide with the K-2 teachers how to do bathrooms."  "Find out where dance class happens."  More than half of my time was taken up with things that this year, I didn't have to do.

Last year, no one at school was ready for the year to begin.  We didn't know how to run a big school: how to do dismissal with 550 kids; how to operate a huge cafeteria with kids of all ages, from 4 to 15; how to manage that many students in the hallways; how to prepare so many new teachers for the hard work ahead. If we, the teachers, wanted something organized or planned or clarified, we had to do it ourselves, because no one else had time.  When would we have our weekly K-2 assemblies?  Where would each class sit during assemblies?  How should we run recess, and where? Which bathrooms would each class use?  We had to figure it all out.

This year, I was ready, and we, as a school, were ready.  We learned a lot of lessons last year, mostly the hard way.  We have systems and schedules now.  We have rules and expectations, for adults and children.  It feels less unsettling, less overwhelming and scary, and less exhausting.  It is less isolating and less sad.

In the past two weeks, I had lots of time to get my classroom ready.  Everything found a place.  (Last year, there were a few piles I didn't figure out what to do with before school started, and they were right in the same place on the last day of school.)  It is hard to feel settled if your classroom isn't really ready.  Having those hours to putter around, to do small things like clean out the filing cabinet and make labels for every small container, helps me feel ready, excited, and in control.  A teacher needs to feel in control of her domain, or else watch out.

When I thought back to a year ago, I realized, it's no wonder I didn't like my job last year, or my students.  Those poor kids, they were lost before they even set foot in my classroom. I wasn't ready for them!  I needed more time; I really didn't want them to come.  So when they did come (and, let's be honest, when they turned out not to be an easy bunch), my heart was set against them.  Not only that, but they were following on the footsteps of two years with my best and easiest class.  They didn't have a chance.

The last few weeks, my biggest fear was that this year I would go back to school and not like it again.  Not like my students, not build relationships with their families, and not want to be a teacher.  If last year was an anomaly, that would be okay.  But if it had become the new reality, that would be heart-breaking.  Being a teacher is so much a part of who I am.  How would I adjust to changing that part of my identity?  I'm only a few days in, so there's no answer yet.  But already, this year feels a million times better than last year.  This year, my heart is in it again.

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