The start of school is so sweet and exciting. Starting school is also one of the hardest things a teacher can be put through. How do these two observations stand together? It is much like a marriage honeymoon: lots of joy and lots of adjustment. And that is because both the start to a school year and a honeymoon are the establishment of a new relationship. Education is nothing if it is not relational. Note some of the things that cause its bittersweet commencement.
First there is the newness of the age. I am in Third grade. I have never been a Third grader before. There are new things in Third grade. Can I do this? I have more responsibility, am I up to it? New subjects, privileges, expectations (cursive, they want me to write in cursive?), things of such sort all cram together into a bundle of joy and fear.
Secondly, there is the new set of personal expectations. Some students come to class the first day bound and determined to do better than last year, or to make new friends, or simply enjoy the experience more than they did last year. Teachers get right into gear re-teaching all the proper routines, behaviors, and expectations that they had gotten the last group so well ordered with by the end of last year. The cycle of such is both encouraging and disheartening in the same breath. The thin sharp blade of paradox has never been felt so keenly as 10 minutes before the last class of the first day ends. I love this job; Do I have to start all over again? Why didn’t they learn all this last year?
Then there is the newness of the teacher/student. New students in a school or to school (Kindergarten) have this in spades. Everyone is a stranger. What do they expect of me? What should I expect of them? And teachers share in this new feeling as well. Will this gang relate well to me? Do they even care that I exist? How will they present me to their parents? What treasures lie behind these new faces? What lessons will they teach me? How will they respond when they realize I don’t know it all?
Finally, and most joyous to me is the notion of the clean slate. It’s a new year. Everyone has an ‘A’ at this moment. I’m back in the saddle again. These are the best lesson plans I have ever made. All those things come rushing in with the new clothes, shiny lunch bucket, and stack of sharpened pencils. But fear is usually not far behind either: How soon will I need to confess and repent with this bunch? What happens if I get a question wrong? Does this teacher love me? Do these students know I love them? What do the parents think of me?
And so it begins. And three weeks later, that thrill of excitement and fear has given way to the established routine. “The honeymoon is over.” Don’t make the mistake of saying, “Ah, now real school can begin.” It began at the first day. Now we can move yet closer to the middle of a strong and knowledgeable relationship, but that first day, first week, first month all have their necessary lessons. And we have to learn them again each year. Enjoy the beginning, the middle, and the end.