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A Welcoming Start, Take 2

August 20, 2010

(note: this post is an adaptation of the original post, A Welcoming Start.)

waiting for readers

This is the time of year that my family likes me just a wee bit less than usual.  Really.   Lot of big things (classroom environment, curriculum, how will my class community come together, how will my own kids settle in?) and little things (did I spell names right, do I have enough time outdoors with kids, did I order supplies, where are lunch boxes?) dominate my consciousness and zap my ability to be fully present as a parent.   My family loves me and therefore, tolerates and supports this crazy-busy time of year.  Thank goodness!  My energy this week is really focused on a group of children I’ve yet to know but am eagerly awaiting their arrival.

Aside from the multitude of tasks inherent in setting up a classroom,  there are also copious  thoughts and emotions floating in and out of my head at this time of year.  Nobody needs to share in that tangled web, but one of the thoughts that I’ve been coming back to is how the start of school really feels to children?  And how do we, as adults, know how they feel?  Not how we think nor remember nor expect them to feel?  But how does it really feel to be in a three, four, five or six-year-old body getting ready to leave the safety and comfort of your own home or summer routine? I wonder if any of us can honestly understand what it feels like?  As parents and teachers, we like to think it’s a positive experience and a time of joyous expectations.   No adult wants kids to be racked with worry about the start of school, but how do we know what it’s really like? More importantly, how to we help make this cyclical milestone more likely to be positive and exciting?

I liken it to being summoned to a meeting with someone important whom you don’t yet know. No agenda is presented, no task assigned, no preparation outlined and what will happen is completely novel, i.e. you don’t have much in your schema that you will draw upon, except for your own confidence and sense of self.  And your five. you live in the moment and  most actions come from the bottom of your brain.  I don’t think there are many adults who would be eager for that gig. Essentially though, that’s what we ask of kids, especially those starting school for the first time or starting at a new school.  In the best case, kids visit the building and meet the teachers (and maybe peers) ahead of time and often know some of their friends from last year.  There are conversations about what school will be like and what is expected of all parties.  Supplies and clothes are purchased and some of the really great books on back to school are read ahead of time.    The unknown and change lie ahead, schedules speed up or shift, and the lazy days of summer fun come to a close.  Not selling this package to some, I know.

But to the others, the anticipation of starting fresh, reunions with old friends and meeting new friends, adapting to a routine, and hopes and expectations get many excited. That’s the perspective many teaches cling to, perhaps because our own feelings come from the same place.  I spend a lot of time getting my room ready  for the year, with goal of setting the ambiance and tone of a welcoming and inviting place in which a dozen or more children will begin to help turn it into our home away from home.  It’s an obligation which become obsessive, and then my colleagues and I get down to the real business of looking at our program, articulating our professional hopes and dreams, reviewing what we know of children at a particular age, and how we will communication with parents  and families –  and it all comes back and fits into place.

But still, I wonder how it really feels to my little friends?  This year, I’m fortunate enough to teach third grade with about half of the children I had as first graders.  It’s not the first time in my career I’ve looped or had kids across grades. It’s an amazing privilege to have a child twice – simultaneously know them and to be challenged and impressed by how they’ve matured.  So even though some of us know each other, the start of school is nerve-racking on some level for all students (and teachers!).  I’ve heard adults talk about how their early teachers deeply shaped them – for better or for worse – and know that all of us in this profession share the awesome power and responsibility to make the year positive for each child.  That’s my overarching goal for each child. The more tactical goals will unfold in the weeks to come.

So I’ve tasked myself to dig deeper this week. I’ve asked parents of little ones and elementary aged kids what they are thinking about this time of  year:

  • can’t wait to give her teacher a hug!
  • loves new folders and pencils
  • held the welcome letter out like it was  a draft letter!
  • acting surly and grumpy right now, (I) hope the teacher doesn’t get the wrong impression
  • has bag packed already and is setting alarm clock
  • cries because best friend is in a different class
  • how is a teen going to get up at 6 am? Older kids should start later!

As adults, we know almost all of these feelings will come to pass, but the memory may be imprinted for life. I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of children and think about how they feel – in an effort to make my room and my presence feel more welcoming, the classroom feel safe and inviting, and to make this start of school once of the best starts for all of us.  Check back soon to see and hear how we do.

(In case you are wondering, I teach at a fabulous and welcoming school…write me to find out more!)

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