This year, new technology is coming to students. New content obtained over the summer from three weeks of professional development and two online classes is also on the way. Then there is the energy from students excited about the start of a new year. Even the new superintendent gives an inspirational speech, which gets a curtain call.
Trying to get to sleep last night was tough. It was hot, and I was nervous about the first day of staff meetings. But when the alarm went off at 6:00am, I still bounced out of bed. As I drove up to the school, there’s an earthquake. Moving earth is always exciting and seemed to be a good sign. But it is almost as if the earth sets events on an irreversibly negative trajectory. My new electronic key not only opens the school door, it sets off the building alarm, which was just repaired.
Thirty minutes later, I get to my classroom and find a peculiarly strong odor greeting me at the doorstep. I ask random people for the use of their noses. What is that smell? Ignoring the putrid odor, I turn to the blank wall in my room where new art will hang. It is so dirty; tape and heavy duty 3M products won’t stick. I’ve brought a mop to clean it, and soon there is a bucket of dirty water and a wet, muddy wall. I leave the wall cleaning for the first department meeting of the year, which is dominated by complaints. The details are pedantic. The positive comments can be counted on one hand.
The complaints follow me out into the rest of the campus. Complaining is everywhere. Teacher complaints are dominated by two topics: 1) our 1.5% raise is looking more and more anemic given the ballooning administrative staff and the arrival of new state money, and 2) many class sizes are bigger than they have been in years. The phone rings. It is the auto shop telling me I won’t have my car fixed for three days. Attacking the phone, I dial the auto insurance company only to discover they won’t return my calls. The phone rings again with a call from my real estate agent who informs me that yet another bid on another house is a loser. I finally go home depressed and dejected.
Some days as a teacher are disappointing. In this profession, it helps to have extraordinary optimism and cheerfulness so that the disappointing times don’t define the work. While I’m neither optimistic nor cheerful, I’ve found that the difficult days are usually the ones dominated by adults, and true to form, the start of this year is no different.
As soon as the students show up, I’m back to loving the beginning of school. There is the big smile and authentic “How are you?” from Sydney. The joyful reconnections with Megan and Tyler and Sutter and Kevin. How Nikitha and Clair stop by before going off to college just to say goodbye. Three students begging to be my T.A. Four students asking for letters of recommendation. A new World History curriculum focused on climate change that inspires. “I’m really looking forward to your class” from more students than I can count. New first-day activities where students are actually getting to know each other. “Thank you” from countless young people as their first class with me ends and they pile out of the newly decorated room. Oh, how I love the start of school, despite the disappointments.
Dave Keller (@dkeller101) has been teaching Social Studies for 17 years, consistently looking for new curriculum and methods of instruction. While experimenting with technology in education, Dave focuses on teaching the reading and writing skills required for studying our social universe. He has taught classes throughout the Social Studies discipline in a variety of high schools, including a large comprehensive inner-city school, a charter school, and a competitive independent school. He currently lives in Oakland and teaches at Piedmont High.