Thursday, August 23, 2012

First Year Stories

Today was a good day, to quote the title of a previous post and quite an excellent piece of music by Ice Cube.  It was the first day of school.  My seventeenth first day of school as a teacher.  People asked all week "are you ready?"  I replied honestly to some that while I looked forward to a new school year, I wasn't looking forward to the first day at all.  First days can be so awkward.

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.


  1. My first day of student teaching, first block, right after the bell rang, a student threw up on my shoes and I went running to the sink while my CT took over.

  2. Reason #4 of why I'm glad I don't teach elementary school; but even in high school I've got a few "vomit" stories.

  3. Successful teaching rule #37- Never wear new shoes on the first day...duh?

  4. From a fellow introvert, I totally get that first days issue, and it is so rare to hear other teachers talk about the fatigue of meeting new people because so many of them are extroverts. I cringed at one conversation where someone said "the best teachers are extroverts" or something like that. Ugh.

    I don't have any particularly bad first day stories, but another girl in my department had a student who had failed her class last year pretty much badmouth her through the entire first class this year - stuff like, they were talking about cheating and the kid said "Anyone can copy from me, it's fine" and later "I already took your class, you should just pass me, I don't need to do work" - called out as loud as possible over whatever she was saying, of course. No vomit though, at least.

    Actually, I'm trying to think of good first-year horror stories in general and I have to say that most of my first year is just a blur now. I can barely remember much of it, and I've been teaching half as long as you.

  5. After this many years, today is already a blur. I console students now by telling them I get my own children's names wrong so they shouldn't get offended if I mess their's up from time to time.

    I hadn't really thought about the fatigue, but after a few weeks I really enjoy being around a few thousand energetic teenagers; but at first, it's quite a mental drain.

  6. Don't fret and I are still mediocre at best so it isn't just fatigue. I taught one day Middle school PE and 1 day World History. Day 1 for me started halfway through first block when I walked into a room and the teacher selected half the names(randomly?) and said "Please go down the hall with Mr. Lindsay" My only prep was the textbook I was handed about 20 minutes before hand. I began with "so...what were you guys doing in class?" I had them read at least.

    I also remember later that year while in my PE role a guy walking into the gym from outside in full camouflage and wearing flight helmet....It was pre-columbine but after the Jonesboro school shooting, so I was unsure whether to hide or tackle him. I did neither and it turns out he had just landed a Nat'l Guard chopper on the softball field out back. Believe it or not he needed directions to a Dare program and all they had was a highway map. So I ripped a page out of the phone book and actually said "take a left off Hydraulic" was unusual.

    I have plenty more first year horror stories but recall day 2 with my overhead transparencies and lot of notes.