Saturday, March 19, 2016

First Day of School from 2 Perspectives, Perspective 1, Joe Persch

My First Day: Installment 1
by Joe Persch

 I stepped into the classroom with my plan firmly in place. But as any strategist who’s even half competent will tell you, the best laid plans are only good until the first shot is fired. The same holds true in any aspect of life. The truth of it is that you need to make a plan, but it needs to be flexible, not rigid. You need to prepare for the unexpected.
 And so, with this tidbit of knowledge in place, I glanced around and noticed the room was empty. It was like a clean slate. I set my bags down by the door and began decorating. I had brought some things along that I wanted the kids to see. Sure, there were the standard things: seasonal-themed frill for the announcements board, fun calendars, school-themed nametags for the desks of each student, and even standard cliché posters encouraging kids to read. But then I got to the fun stuff.
 Out came the stuffed animal that would become our classroom mascot: Darigan the Dragon. This guy’s purpose was to encourage the kids to write about whatever they wanted. The purpose was for each student to take him home for one weekend at a time and write in a journal about their adventures. They could include pictures, stories, drawings, and anything else they wanted. This little guy was step one.
 Next I put up the rules of the classroom. Rules I wish my elementary teachers had thought of. Rule 1: Have fun. Rule 2: Have fun. Rule 3: No running. Rule 4: No hurting/bullying other students. Rule 5: Have passion and work hard. Rule 6: Smile. These rules would be read to the class on their first day. I would be expanding on them in a way to really grab their attention. For example, “Rule 3: No Running. If you are running and you trip and hurt yourself, you are not having fun and therefore are breaking rules number 1 and 2 as well as number 3.”
 This was the plan. I had some special models that I placed on my desk which would give my students an idea of the things I was passionate about. I intended to rock this classroom and truly make it mine. But I was nervous as well. I had no idea what to expect. I knew I could relate to these kids. I knew I would be able to reach them. But I also knew it wouldn’t always be fun and games. There was work to do. There was that nagging doubt in the back of my mind. What if I came across parents who thought that a dragon stuffed animal was the work of the devil? How would I handle that? Relating to kids is far easier than relating to adults. Adults make things complicated. As the doubt grew, I wondered (and not for the first or last times) what I had gotten myself into.
 I reminded myself why I had wanted to teach in the first place. I remembered the first time I ran a cub scout meeting and how I got the kids to react with excitement and enthusiasm without even having a plan in place. I remembered thinking, then, if this was what it was like to teach. I thought back to being in seventh and eighth grades and wondering about what it was like to make lesson plans.
 I’ll never deny that many of my ideas stemmed from others doing them first. The classroom mascot was an idea of one of my son’s teachers when he was little. The rules were based on rules on of his Cub Scout Camp counselors used in the Handicraft area. Even the idea of repeating rules 1 and 2 came from Fight Club. What was mine was the integration of those ideas and modifying them to suit my style.
 Then I began to think about what it had been like on my first day in a new classroom with a new teacher and a bunch of kids I didn’t know. I couldn’t remember a whole lot about it, it had been so long ago. But I remembered each of my main teachers over the years of my time in elementary school. Each had had their own style. Each had brought something new and different to the classroom. And each had a passion that I remember fondly.
 But there was one thing I noticed had been constant throughout it all that I didn’t like. The “tried and true” formula of making kids sit in seats all day and expect them to pay attention or stay quiet. I didn’t want that in my classroom. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want chaos, but I didn’t want a stuffy, boring classroom either. There would be regular stretch breaks where we would all get up and stretch together. Maybe do some jumping jacks and running in place. Not only would it help them, but it would get them into the habit of thinking about exercise as well.
 I wanted to integrate old video games such as Final Fantasy into the classroom to encourage reading and show them that reading is important even in something fun like a game because it can tell a story. It was reserved for a Friday afternoon activity in the classroom, but we would all read together. As a teacher, the job isn’t just to teach to pass a standardized test. Our job is to show our students the greater scope of the world, one day at a time, slowly increasing the scope as we go until their minds begin branching out into the wider universe.
 Between my plans as a first time teacher, and my memories as a student, I think I had a pretty good bead on what needed to be done in the coming year. I just hoped I could get it through to the kids.
 A few weeks later, the first students walked through the door and began looking for their seats. Since they were young, I asked each if they could read. Most said no, so I helped them find their seats, one at a time, in the order they entered so no one felt left out.

 The bell rang, I introduced myself to all of the new students, and it was then that I knew, the moment of truth was upon me.


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