It is August; the temperature is in the nineties in Montgomery, Alabama, and the air conditioners cannot keep up. We teachers start with two days of meetings, and while there is new leadership and some new paint and carpet, we still aren’t sure that on August 8th that we want to be back here. What happened to summer?
Monday morning arrives, though, and the students come through the doors. Ready or not–here we go. I tried a new way of collecting information from my students this year; I had each of them email me the following information: Name, parents’ names, address, how many years at our school, siblings, pets, and one fun fact about themselves. This not only gives me some biographical information and helps me learn names, but also gets our email addresses in each other’s contacts. It was simply a practical, ‘housekeeping’ type activity during the first day of class.
Monday evening at home I sat down to read those emails. One student is a juggler; another likes to bow hunt. One has a dog named Maggie; I once had a crazy dog named Maggie. I have a student who loves to sing but gets nervous. I tell her I sang my first solo with shaking legs when I was her age. I cannot help myself; I begin conversing with them, just a sentence or two about something they said. Before I look up, an hour and a half has passed and I am smiling. I stand up from my kitchen table energized.
Energized. Yes, energized at the end of the first day of school. Excited after answering sixty-five emails. Why? Because my ninth graders, my brand new high schoolers, have walked through the doors of my classroom. I am beginning the relationship in these short emails. With snippets about dogs and sports and big sisters, I am laying the foundation for our teaching and learning: relationship is the ground upon which I build. And I am having fun. They bring the unexpected, the ups and downs of adolescence, lots of humor, but more importantly, potential. I am filled with hope for every one of them.
Five years ago, I returned to the classroom when my youngest was a freshman in high school after a twenty-three year hiatus from teaching. Last May I watched my first class of ninth graders graduate as seniors. The physical transformation alone in those four years is staggering, but the mental, emotional and spiritual growth is equally satisfying to see. Those students are going off to college this week, including my own daughter. At times in the last four years, we wanted to pull our hair out as both parents and teachers; but they all graduated and matriculated to college and are going to have much to offer the communities where they land.
I’m looking at my new class of freshmen with the anticipation of being equally proud of them one day.