It’s the first day of school, and I’ve been called in on an emergency basis to fill in at the elementary school where I used to teach. Since I’ve been gone, the entire staff has left and been replaced by people I don’t know. Also, the locations of all the classrooms, offices, cafeteria, and library have changed. I can’t find my music classroom. I don’t have the main office number listed on my phone.
When I finally locate the music room, it’s filled with unruly students running around and using the ceiling light fixtures as trapeze swings, no responsible adults in sight. They’ve just been dropped off, and I have no idea what grade they are or when they will be picked up. I have no class list. I have no schedule. I don’t know what books, supplies, or instruments I have or where they would be located. I have no strategy for getting the students under control, no first-day activities planned.
No, this didn’t really happen, but it is a recurring dream I’ve had frequently in the five years since I resigned from teaching. I’ve also had variations on this dream: my new classroom is a cabana on the beach and I have to keep my kindergarten students from drowning in the surf; it’s the day of the big musical performance and I’ve forgotten to cast or rehearse it.
And it’s similar to dreams that even veteran teachers have about being unprepared for the first day or for back-to-school night.
I actually always loved the first few weeks of school. Everything was fresh; the students were well-behaved, confident that this new year would be the best yet. The students at my school had new clothes and backpacks and pristine supplies to begin their classes. The impetus of novelty continued while the kids were challenged to progress to the next level.
This is the first year that I didn’t have a pang of regret on the first day of school. I like retirement enough that I’m not missing the back-breaking labor of setting up my classroom (teachers spend the day after the last day of school clearing their classrooms so that annual maintenance like deep-cleaning and painting can happen over the summer). I still miss the vibrance of working with kids, but my students who were kindergarteners when I resigned are now in sixth grade (not my favorite age group). I don’t think I could pick up where I left off.
The schools in my neck of the woods opened a few weeks ago, but when we lived in New Jersey, the traditional start of school was the day after Labor Day. Best wishes to all who are starting out this week. Give your teachers a hug for me.