It’s the first day of school! If you count today, I have had 43 first days of school. I was the student for some of those, but I’ve been the teacher for most of them. I have to admit-I love the first day of school! The raw energy. The positive attitudes. New haircuts. Unopened school supplies. That first day outfit.
I hear the same things from students every year. They are both excited and nervous for school to start. There’s something about a new beginning that holds hope and promise. I’ve learned through the years that teachers and students have a lot of the same thoughts. Will I be able to keep up with the class? Am I going to make mistakes? What if I don’t know the answers? Do I know anyone in my class? Can I fit in a bathroom break during passing time?
As we settle into the year, those fresh first day kids are going to slowly show their stripes. They’ll all be there sitting in the desks of my classroom. The quiet one. The confident one. The class clown. The one with a chip on the shoulder. The one who just wants to please me with enthusiasm and work quality.
I always wonder about them. Who’s really behind that outward confidence? What amazing talent is hidden in the quiet? What fears are the root of the jokes? How did the chip develop on that shoulder? How can I help the pleaser learn to feel self-worth? There’s only one thing I need to do as an answer for all of these questions. I need to listen. That’s it. No magical power. No special trick. I just need to listen to the student, the whole student, not just to the answers for assignments.
My job is to pay attention to their learning needs. My purpose is to find the good in each of them. I’ll find it because I know it’s there. I may have to dig a little deeper to find it in some, and it’s worth my effort.
A few years ago, a new student strutted through the hallway with heavy strands of jet-black dyed hair covering his eyes, thick with dark eyeliner. He looked tough on the exterior, but I knew that there was more to him than the black leather jacket and ripped jeans. Fortunately, he was in my class. You know what? My hunch was right. He turned out to be a thoughtful, creative guy who noticed everything going on around him. He knew others weren’t sure how to take him and he felt the sting of that. He wanted to be heard. I listened to him when others were afraid of what he might say. Eventually, he stopped calling me by my teacher name and started calling me Mom.
It’s been a few years since he was in my class. He dresses in colors now with his brown hair a bit shorter and his blue eyes makeup free. When he stops by school to chat about his life, he still calls me Mom. I take that as a compliment. Perhaps one of the kids I met on this first day of school will feel that he was heard, that someone listened. Maybe that student will also call me Mom.