I have always loved the first day. Everywhere you turn, people are moving like they haven’t moved all summer. With trepidation maybe but with purpose, too. If you asked students if they’d welcome another week or two of summer, their eyes would drift wistfully at the prospect, reluctant to admit that they also crave the sense of order and hope the first day brings. Crisp notebooks, crumb-free backpacks, new outfits, just-sharpened pencils. Even the fresh teacher handouts, which don’t seem as fresh by the end of the day, symbolize opportunity, the chance to get it right this time. Friendships defined by school are renewed. Friendships once strained become comfortable and easy. Maybe. New ties are forged.
Teachers’ movements are especially hectic as they distribute syllabi and texts and create seating charts and struggle to find their rhythm. I decided early on that I wouldn’t stress myself with this flurry, putting off all the deadening clerical tasks for later in the week. On the first day, I simply wanted to begin to know these new faces, to convey that our time together would be authentic, filled with respectful communication and lively activities and a disdain for busywork. Really.
I missed all this today. The stepping into a classroom full of new faces, all of us gathered and settling in, wondering how this collection of individual identities would merge into a class personality that would be unlike any other class ever assembled. I remember the glare of challenge in their eyes as they sized me up, assessing how hard they’d have to work and how much they could get away with and wondering if this would be a fun class. On the first day, I was up for the challenge, handing out cool cards, explaining our need to be regarded as cool, sharing my embarrassing stories of trying to act cool as a boy and how the need never quite disappears.
By the end of the day, everyone is exhausted. Teachers’ voices are strained. Students are restless after sitting all day, which seems like a counterintuitive request we make of students: still your body and activate your mind. But it’s an earned exhaustion and restlessness. And even though the first day’s intensity pales a bit by day two, those first impressions and lofty intentions steady us as we tackle the tasks that lie ahead.
All day I thought about this.
As I reached into my mailbox in the afternoon, here’s what I pulled out. The cover is entitled, Eternal Summer.