Sunday, August 07, 2005

The First Day

Being on break for a week I've realized that I'm like my dad: when I take a vacation it doesn't mean I don't work, it just means I work less. After going into the office for a few hours on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I had to force myself not to go in for the rest of the week. Of course, Sunday doesn't count, right?

I've been thinking about the first-years as of late. Some of them started teaching last week. The rest will start this week. I can't remember how I felt the night before my first day of teaching. That would have been in Engela, a small town five kilometers south of the Angolan border in mid-January of 1998. In Southern Africa that is the summertime so I'm sure it was hot and dry.

I do remember how I felt the night before my first day teaching in the Teacher Corps. That would have been early August of 2000 in Hollandale, Mississippi. I didn't sleep. I spent the previous weekend working on my room, getting it just right, going over rosters and names and my lesson plan. I'd always been told that what you did on the first day set the tone for the entire year, and you couldn't ever get it back.

School started in the gymnasium. The principal gathered the staff together before walking into the gym and said, "Don't let the kids go to the bathroom during classtime. They have five minutes between classes to use the restroom." Then we all walked into the gym. We were seated in chairs while all the kids looked us over from the bleachers. Mr. Liddell introduced the teachers (the old favorites got applause) and then called out the students by homeroom teacher. Each teacher dutifully led the students to his or her homeroom.

My homeroom got settled and I briefly introduced myself. Within five minutes Latoya Jackson (that is her real name, although all the kids called her 'Lil Bit' as in, she was a lil bit there) stood up and said, "I need to use the restroom."

"I'm sorry," I said, "but Mr. Liddell instructed us to not let students use the restroom during homeroom or class time. You have five minutes between bells to use it."

Without breaking a sweat Latoya said, "Well, my momma let's me go to the bathroom whenever I want," and walked out.

I thought, oh my God, I've just blown it. I've just set the tone for the entire year. All the kids watched Latoya walk out, and then turned back to me, waiting for my response.

I looked at them and said, "Does anyone else's mom let them use the bathroom whenever they want?"

The kids laughed and it turned out not to be the end of the world. Latoya mostly stayed in trouble and mostly didn't show up for homeroom. I taught her the next year in English III. She failed, but made it up during summer school. She graduated the following year. She is a sweet kid who acts loud so no one will make fun of her. She got pregnant her senior year. Sometimes I run into her when I go back to Hollandale. She always comes over to speak.

So, it turns out that what happens on the first day does not set the tone for the entire year.

However, I bet most of the first-years won't sleep the night before.

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