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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Sawdust and a Bucket: First Day Memories

This came 24 hours ago from a man living in the cap city region of New York state:  “I’m reading your blog today post while waiting for the incoming freshman class to wander, meander, stumble, and eventually find their way into my classroom for their orientation. OK Back to work! (signed) Chris.”

God bless Chris, he’s a teacher. I know this,even though the two of us have never met.  

And God bless his incoming freshmen class. Today it was their first day of school.

From time immemorial the Wednesday after Labor Day was the first day of school for most everyone – until in recent years those cruel horsemen the retailers decided to push Christmas shopping every earlier, using powerful reins to cruelly yank the whole calendar back toward early fall,  the bit in our poor mouths tearing at our delicate cheeks aaaargh!

But back to the first day of school:

Can you remember it? And if so what do you remember?

I remember standing between my mother’s legs as she tried to contain my curls in 1,000 tiny elastics, little fat milk bottles smelling faintly of cheese, the sawdust brought in by the custodian to mop up the breakfast some poor child

I remember that the simple sight of the lunch my mother had packed me brought tears to my little eyes.

I remember how I suffered after walking back into class from the bathroom with the hem of my dress tucked up into the waistband of my underpants.

I remember our 8th grade English teacher pronouncing poetry “poytry” that very first day and then trying to get us to do the same.

Now what DO you remember? 

I wrote Chris back and told him to be sure he ate a good lunch, because – just in case you don’t know this – if you think sitting in one of those little desks is hard,  try being the person standing in front of that big desk, who, period after period , day after day,  has to make the magic happen. 

A prayer for all the teachers then, at the start of  another year!