The kids showed up at my classroom door exactly three weeks ago. Some ran in and started jumping, spinning, and yelping. Some cried and clung to their mothers’ legs. Really, both were displays of the same emotions: anxiety, uncertainty, excitement. Most everyone was overwhelmed, and we all have our defense mechanisms that kick into effect when feeling overwhelmed. Myself included. I don’t necessarily yelp or cling, but I do keep an unusually close eye on my clipboard, and I drink more water than typical.
In some ways, despite all of the newness and hype, those first few days are easy. Long and exhausting, but also easy to plan and fill. I know that within the first few hours kids need to know where the bathroom is, where the tissue is, where the pencils are, where the paper is, what to do if they have an idea to share, what to do if they feel upset, how to find a spot to sit on the carpet, how to find a spot to sit at a table, how to line up and move through the school, how to get their lunch from the cafeteria, and how to ask for help. They also need to the know my name and at least a couple of their classmates’ names. And that they’re expected to be safe. And kind. What exactly that means comes a bit later, but they need to know that it exists as an expectation right away.
Cram all of that into a daily schedule that also includes large volumes of singing, dancing, and playing, and it quickly becomes clear that there is plenty to accomplish at the beginining of the year. Whether or not those things have been accomplished can essentially be determined with a my favorite tool: a to-do list. I schedule in this here, that there, and suddenly there are a lot of checked boxes, the week passes, and we’re on to the next.
But now we’re a few weeks in, and the to-do list becomes more abstract. We’ve learned names, we’ve used the bathroom plenty of times, and we’ve settled on a set of classroom agreements that we’ll all work towards. Everyone knows where the pencils are, and everyone can explain how we’re supposed to sit on the carpet.
Now my to-do list items are more like “help everyone learn to manipulate small numbers,” “develop strong relationships with families,” and “show students that they are all authors.” Also: “make sure everyone learns to read.” Much harder to check off. Much more complicated. Much more daunting. Also much more exciting. The oh right I’m here to ensure a productive year of growth and learning for these children feeling has returned. Singing silly songs and sending everyone home smiling isn’t quite enough (though it’s still critical of course!). Now we’re ready to dig in, and hopefully the fully-packed beginning and the continuing community-building will make the road all that much smoother as we move forward.
So: L’Shanah tovah u’mtukah! May we all have a good and sweet and productive and engaging and exciting and challenging and loving new year! Hopefully it will include some checked boxes, even if they are a bit more abstract to start.