Tag Archives: first day

No Apples Here

This post draws from my first journal entry as a brand-new New York City Teaching Fellow about ten years ago. I’d spent plenty of time working with children as a teenager, and a year as a photography teacher at a school in Yonkers, but I was not prepared for what was to come. [Our summer school assignments were intended to be an observational period — an opportunity to watch and learn from a veteran teacher, and as time went on, to try our hand at teaching a lesson here and there before jumping headfirst into our own classrooms, come September.]

“It’s the first day of summer school, and we arrive promptly at 8am to find that there are no classes for us to observe. Correction: there are classes to observe, but not enough (certified) teachers have shown up, and we are asked to act as substitutes instead. We are paired up.

My partner and I are escorted to a 5th grade class, and the day is mostly chaotic. Before we get started, I notice a girl standing off to the edge of the room, and when asked to take a seat, she says she’s too big for the furniture. It’s true, so I give her the chair from the teacher’s desk to sit on, which initiates a waterfall of complaints from other students who want to sit in a big chair, too. It turns out the room is built for 3rd graders, and more than a few students are crammed into chairs and desks that are too small.”

Looking back on this entry, I can see the emergence of what I would soon learn to call ‘the policy-practice gap.’ Here are my observations as a graduate student:

  • Having an uncertified, rookie teacher cover a class on the very first day of summer school seems to go against policy, no? The Transitional B certificate, which I and all other alternative certification teachers were given in order to bypass New York State regulations requiring the acquisition of a Masters degree prior to certification, likely contributed to this grey area. While I wouldn’t have been able to teach full time without the certificate, I was not prepared to take on a class on my first day.
  • Mismatched bodies and furniture would happen on a recurring basis throughout my years of teaching that would follow. How can students be expected to learn and ‘behave’ if they can’t fit into the seat(s) assigned to them?
  • Any brand-new teacher can attest to hearing things like ‘don’t smile till Christmas,’ referring to how important some educators feel it is to appear strong to students. While I have a number of issues with this tacit new-teacher ‘policy’ (and a general inability to not smile at times), there is some truth in making an effort to keep your composure when standing in front of a group of students. And while pairing us up made sense from the perspective of the administration, since few of us had ever stood in front of a classroom before, it sent the message to the class (just like smiling broadly might) that we were nervous/unprepared/new.

More on the ‘policy-practice gap’ to come in future posts.

Night Before the First Day of School

I wonder if my bad sleep patterns lately are a subconscious act of solidarity with teachers throughout New York City who are preparing to start another academic year tomorrow.  I remember all too well that charged mixture of excitement and anxiety that churns in your belly the night before school starts — I always thought that the more experienced I got, the more calm I’d be on the night before the first day, but that never happened.

As a classroom teacher, I spent my time on this night prepping first-day/get-to-know-you activities, and frantically finishing the touches on my colorful bulletin boards, in the hopes that the first day would go smoothly, my prep and lunch schedule would afford reasonable bathroom breaks (one year, I taught for nearly four hours without a break on some days), and I would be able to be myself without being a total pushover (which a former supervisor described me as during my rookie year — ouch!).

Here’s a picture of that rookie (that I’ll probably be horrified about having posted come morning).  Note the empty shelves behind me that demonstrate the lack of books I was faced with during that first year.  I’ll never forget asking my AP (the same one who called me, to be exact, a “soft, white pushover”) sometime in September, when would my books be arriving for my classroom library?  I was directed to make due with what I had, or provide a library using my Teachers Choice money (which amounted to $200 per year per teacher at that time, and funded the purchase of very little for an entire classroom of students, as you can imagine).  The books that existed in the room when I arrived were in a variety of languages and skill levels, and all seemed to be published sometime before 1990.  I think the room had been a learning language lab at some point.  Very few of the existing books were appropriate for a group of third-grade students, many of whom were still learning to read.  I was lucky to acquire a number of book collections from friends during that year, and my classroom library eventually grew to robust proportions; only to be replaced two years later by the “mayors’ library,” which involved an exciting-and-then-anticlimactic delivery of over 300 volumes to my classroom that were mostly inaccessible to my students because of a mismatch in skill level.

So, at the start of a school year when education funding is being slashed left and right, and teachers are busying themselves in the spirit of bringing meaningful, engaging learning experiences to their new students, I cannot help but think about their collective task ahead.  My heart and soul are with all teachers tomorrow — I wish you a wonderful, productive first day, and 179 smooth, engaging days to follow.  In the meantime, thank you for the tremendous work that you do.  Your job is, after all, the most important job.