The First Day

Wow...it has come...and gone.  My first day EVER as a teacher is over.  A first day in a new career only happens once in your lifetime....and it's over.  I think if I approached today from that perspective this whole time, I would have been a lot less stressed and a lot more grateful for the rarity of the opportunity that was given to me.  It's kind of like your wedding day - you wait all your whole life for the right person to come along....then you get engaged and commit to an upcoming event that barrels towards you.....you spend a year or two planning for it... and then in a flash, the entire experience is done and over with and you only achieve the proper perspective on the magnitude of the event you just experienced after it's over.   ....Similarly, I waited my whole life to get my head on straight and realize what I wanted to do.  Then I had an epiphany one day and met the right idea for the first time and committed to the pursuance of my first real grown-up career goals.  Finally, after a year and a half of planning, school, and hard work, my first day in the career that I will have for the rest of my life has come and gone.  Two years ago in Rocky Mountain National Park, I was walking with my cousin and my spouse while excitedly lecturing them about the rock formations we were encountering along the way.  While they yawned in exasperation (or politely tried to humor my childish exuberance), I realized right then and there that any more moments I spent NOT being a teacher were being foolishly wasted. 

Today, I am a teacher.

Soaring philosophical emotional speeches aside, today didn't come without its nerves or hiccups.  After an anxious morning out on the lawn meeting parents and taking final "first day photos", scared nine year olds got their final pep-talks and send offs from their moms and dads and walked nervously behind Mr. D to enter into the fourth grade for the very first time.  We walked into my school as equals - None of us knowing what lies ahead.... None us knowing what the fourth grade would be like...none of us knowing what the day would bring.  For that long and very surreal walk into the building, I was a fourth grader right along with them.  Luckily, if I played my cards right, they had no friggin' idea that I was just as clueless as they were.  

 But I'm proud to report there were no giant catastrophes.  In fact, there weren't even minor calamities.....not even near misses.  Just eighteen excited and nervous little fourth graders, some of whom are far more self-possessed than others, all staring wide-eyed at one of the only two new classroom teachers in the whole school.  The room was a giant hit.  The bean bags garnered huge smiles and chatter across the board.  The lava lamp dazzled....the little water fountain amused.....the colors brought cheery smiles and oodles of praise from students thrilled to see color everywhere for the first time.  And thankfully, all of these soon-to-be novelties (tic-toc, tic-toc) helped buffer the monotony and boredom of day one in a new grade with a new teacher.  Procedure and rules...routines and guidelines...and finally, more procedures and more rules.

The day wasn't without learning though - I held my very first read-aloud.  As planned when I designed the room, we turned off the overhead lights for the read-aloud, and turned on our colorful library spotlights while I read them my very favorite childhood book, The Teacher From The Black Lagoon. (Actually - Miss Nelson is Missing shares that distinction).   The book served as a segue to discuss first days in school and favorite books.  They loved it.  They loved the library;  They loved the lights.  One child said - "This is awesome....it's like going to the movies!!".  Success. I told him I couldn't agree more!! I said that reading is exactly like going to the movies...but better yet, it's like a movie you can pause and play whenever you want.  They nodded their heads in overzealous unwaivering support.  God bless childhood naiveté.

Tomorrow I MUST discuss Doris, the "says-WILDLY-inappropriate-comments" fourth grade veteran teacher.  (Because she reminds me of crotchety, SUPER nosy, and unexpectedly lethal Doris Roberts from Everybody Loves Raymond who spent her episodes crossing the line, offending people, and unwittingly pushing everyone's buttons).  Today, Doris' comments took a lightning-fast shift from a now previously innocuous "You may want to use anti-frizz products in your hair, Cady"....to a remarkably offensive and politically incorrect, "I have all the Oriental kids in my class!  I can't tell them apart for the life of me!  I have no idea which one is which - they all look the same".  My jaw dropped.  I unconsciously disguised it with a yawn.   When she made fun of the sound of her hypersensitive p.c. daughter correcting her use of the word "Oriental" with the word "Asian" I found an excuse to leave immediately.  I honestly don't even remember what excuse I gave to leave....I left that room in shock, obsessively replaying the following three sound bites in my head: "oriental", "all the same" and "thank god one of them has a mole on their face!".  Oh.  My.  God.    Thank GOD she's Cady's mentor.  Poor Cady.  Don't feel bad for her - she may be young and stunningly beautiful - but she's tough.  She taught in the Bronx for three years.  She'll cutchya.

Finally, for me, one of the highlights of my day was seeing my new traffic light at work in the classroom.  While shopping for teacher supplies this past weekend, I discovered a paper traffic light system where you hang different colored lights to manage the behavior/activities in the classroom.  I loved the idea - but paper was boring - and will NOT be enough to captivate fourth graders.  I thought in the middle of the store..."I can do this....but I can do this better." Out I went to Home Depot, and with some cheap wood, large coffee cans, yellow paint and old spotlights painted red, yellow and green, I created (with my Dad's help of course) a working stop light that I will use to regulate the flow and management of my room. (I call this "teacher ADD" - When I should have been writing lesson plans, I became obsessed with completing a brand new project at the 11th hour.) 

They LOVED it.  And thanks to a handy dandy three-way remote control and receiver set (thank you two-year-old Christmas decorations), I can carry a small remote in my pocket and switch from red to green to yellow to red as needed.  They're already responding well to it.  Give me a month and I hopefully won't have to say a word - they'll see the red light and just know it's time to be sitting quietly and listening.  Or they'll see the green light and know it's time to start sharing with their partners or heading over the rug.  When it's yellow, they have a minute to wrap up their final thoughts or write their final ideas down.... before it's back to red again.    I knew it would eventually be successful when midway through the day, one of the kids noticed the light change to yellow without me saying anything and turned to all of his peers and said "Shh! Guys!! It's turning to yellow!  Finish up!!"

They were listening.  They were following.  They were learning.  They were having fun.  They were my students.  

Today, I was a teacher. 



  1. No Mark...you werent a teacher today...you were truly an educator! The teacher sits at the head of the class but the educator guides and travels with the student for a truly whole holistic learning. You are awesome! Come teach with me! We share a lot of the same ideas and methods! You just have the arts and crafts savy to make them much more beautiful than mine :) Good luck on day 2, but seems like you already have the kids where you need them. :)

  2. Loved it! Love you. So proud :)

  3. Stacey (Bossmann) CrannageSeptember 8, 2010 at 6:35 PM

    Sounds like you had a wonderful first day! I absolutely love your classroom and traffic light...you were always the creative one in class! Congrats on a fabulous job, and I am looking forward to following your blog!