We meet between 120-160 new people in the first two days of school and spend eighty minute blocks of time with them in groups of 20-25. It's pretty miserable for an introvert like me. But this year was very different. Maybe it's the experience. Or maybe my first first day was such a disaster that it has taken over a decade to recover. Only now do I feel confident enough to divulge my first day experience to the public.
August 1996, twenty-two years old. That seemed like adulthood at the time, but today that age doesn't seem to far from high school. I'd completed my student teaching assignment and taken a job at the same school. I showed up dressed better than I've ever dressed since, all planned out and ready to change the world. We taught on a six period A/B block schedule, so classes were One Hundred minutes long. My planning was first period. Of course I couldn't show up on my first day unprepared, so I arrived at school with nothing to do but sit in the office and be nervous for nearly two-hours. My classroom was occupied by another teacher, so I alternated between sitting on the couch and pacing the floor in our social studies office. (This office has since been given away, but that's another long, sad story)
The bell rang, it was showtime, and I was as ready as I could be. Days of planning, hours of practice, and the hour plus of final preparation behind me, I set out for the classroom. The tardy bell rang and I quickly finished taking attendance and began the lesson for the day. It was a good lesson and the students responded well. But nearing the end of what I'd prepared, I noticed the clock. It was still only 11:30. The class was scheduled to end at 12:40. I stalled and talked and tried to pry questions out of the class. They were seniors and it appeared that no one told them that summer was over. They sat, quiet and disengaged. I strung it out as long as I could. Finally, around 11:45 I threw in the towel.
"O.K. class. I'm really sorry, but that's all I've got. I don't have anything else for us to do today." I didn't have enough skill or experience to wing it, and I didn't know the course well enough to move ahead. So we sat. Did I mention my introversion? I tried to make small talk. Engage them in conversation about their summer, sports, family, anything. Finally I gave up on even that and no one said a word for the final forty-five minutes of class. Awkward silence and wasted time.
I really was a terrible teacher my first year. Thankfully I got another chance. Thankfully, today I'm able to smile for an entire period and get mostly the same in return from my students until the bell rings and we have to interrupt what we're doing so they can switch classes. Thankfully, as hard as this job can be, with good colleagues and the right support and training, we get better every year on the job.
I doubt my story sounds nearly as traumatic to the reader as it was for me. I'm sure there are much better first day horror stories than mine. If you have a good one to share, post it in the comments below. Maybe you will bring a smile to someone's face, or encourage a first year teacher who just experienced a terrible first day. They might appreciate knowing how many of us have been there too.