Are you ready for me to beat a metaphor to death? Because I’ve had one running through my brain all weekend. The first month of teaching a new group of students is a lot like the first month with a newborn. At least, it’s how I felt about the first month with my own newborn. If you weren’t around for that time period, I’ll fill you in briefly. It sucked. It was full of frustrated tears, anxiety, and sleeplessness. All work and no reward.
Every new school year is challenging for the first month, but there is something really special when you start at a new school. Frankly, the whole year is going to be kind of a shit show, the only question is just how big of one. You have to learn a new school, new methodology, new requirements, new discipline, new school culture, and usually, new subjects and lessons. It’s hard. It gets easier each year thereafter because you’ve learned the subject, finessed the lessons, integrated into the new school culture, and have a better grasp each year of your resources. You’ve learned what works where you are and what doesn’t, how slow you should take it, how firm you need to be and for how long. Perhaps you’ve even found a friend or two in whom you confide your complaints and frustrations so that your poor husband gets a break from time to time.
But none of that is true the first year, and the first month is a doozy. You think you know what you need to know about that newborn you brought home because you can change diapers and make bottles and strap down the carseat. But nobody told you that the baby was going to be a constant need machine that hates you, and the carseat, and the bathtub, and nothing you do can make it happy.
So just trade out “baby” with “150 students” and “constant need machine that hates you, and the carseat, and the bathtub, and nothing you do can make it happy” with “constant need machines that hate you, and your lessons, and your unreasonable demands that they learn something, and nothing you do can make them happy.”
Believe it or not, the reason this metaphor drifted through my head was not because of how miserable I have been on a few occasions over the last month. It was a happy moment that got me here. I had a decent day. A day in which I was able to relax just slightly, and when I was able to relax just slightly, I started finding these small rewards. Just tiny ones. The same kind of tiny reward you get the first time you think maybe that newborn smiled at you, but you aren’t really sure yet.
The ways in which students show that they care here are so very different than how they occurred in Alaska, that I didn’t even see them at first. But then I was just slightly relaxed, and instead of focusing on the running, hitting, cursing chaos going through the hallway at passing period, I instead focused on how many students said, “Hi, Miss!” Nearly all of them. When I noticed that, I was able to start seeing a hundred little ways they show their appreciation for their teachers. And that showed me ways in which the teachers here are better able to communicate with the kids, and it’s like there is this cycle or something? Where kindness begets kindness? How novel! In much the same way that we eventually learned that our baby liked warmer baths and to not put her in the carseat unless absolutely necessary, I am learning the importance of greeting my students before jumping into lessons, offering tiny rewards for expected behaviors even if I kind of think it’s unnecessary, and creating situations in which students can still be “helpers” even though I’m not accustomed to them wanting to be at this age. Now all my days are running so smoothly!
SNORT!!!! Nope. Yesterday was another shit show. But I had two decent days in a row last week! TWO. IN. A. ROW.
Just like I once learned to celebrate four whole hours of uninterrupted sleep, I am going to now celebrate two halfway decent teaching days in a row. Because if newborn days taught me anything, it’s that the effort will have been worth my time.