From the BIG Desk

What about the first week of school on the teacher’s side of the desk? Someone wrote in the other day that he had had a first day of school 59 times, man and boy. Of that first day as a practice teacher he said, “you do wonder doing those initial moments just where the path will lead.”

Yes you do. I was a teacher for only a scant seven years, yet the experience shifted the whole direction of my life. And yup that first day sure IS hard, for everyone.

But picture it from up front: the kids walk in with this fixedly expressionless look on their faces. “Why should I trust you? this look says. “What if you plan on mocking me, or singling me out, or, God forbid, you force me to rise and stand suffering beside my desk, trying to stammer out some kind of answer for you?

“I won’t do that,” I wanted to say every year. “I promise I will never do that.”

But you can’t say such a thing without subtly undermining any teachers of the Don’t Smile Before Thanksgiving persuasion. The only way for the students to ever trust you is to live out that promise day after day and NOT humiliate, or single out for scorn, or laughter. The only way is again and again NOT to do that even though you have the power to do it. It’s heavy stuff.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t your lighter moments too.

I think of the time my cousin Carolyn stood up from her desk on her first-ever day of teaching and stepped directly into the wastebasket even though the first thing she was told in her teacher training class was for heaven’s sake don’t get so nervous you step in the wastebasket!

I think of the time at the start of my own second year on the job when, having mastered the teacher’s art of lip-reading, I totally saw it when one girl took a long appraising look at me, turned to her friend and mouthed the words ”She’s fat.”

I wasn’t fat actually; I was just fluffy as the saying goes; just sort of zaftig, like most 19-to 22-year-old females seem to briefly be. It’s Nature’s trick, padding us up to take aboard a baby and keep it safely insulated for the next nine months.

The lesson there? Whatever this whole teaching/learning thing is about it’s sure not about physical appearance. It’s what’s happening inside the Control Tower upstairs that you’d best be thinking of there in school.

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