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.