Coming back to school reminds me of a line from The Princess Bride. Wesley has left to seek his fortune, and Buttercup, staying alone on the farm, spends hours crying. The narrator explains, “It was a very emotional time for Buttercup.”
I’ve experienced 14 first days of school as a teacher, and they have varied wildly: one year, I was shaking with nerves; another, I thought the opening initiative I’d chosen would drive the kids in my homeroom to mutinous violence; some years have opened with smiles, hugs, and gifts. The common denominator has always been a heightened state of emotional awareness. Each minute in the day quivers with importance. I’m on the edge. It’s a very emotional time for Buttercup.
If this is how I feel, I expect many students are walking similar high wires in their hearts. As teachers, there’s so much we can do to set a positive tone and help our students get through this emotional time. Here are some ideas:
- Smile. At everyone. All day. Project confidence in the wonderfulness of the shared adventure of school.
- Give gifts. My first period of freshman year took a radical turn for the better when Mr. Froehle gave us each a piece of “magic gum” that would ensure our academic success in high school. That gum became legendary, and so did Mr. Froehle. My English teacher husband gives his homeroom students donut holes. Pencils also make a nice back-to-school gift.
- Set personal goals and resolutions. Eight years ago, my back-to-school resolution was to become a pleasant colleague. It was an audacious goal fueled by the giddy emotions of the back-to-school season, and I’m still working to achieve it.
- Guide your homeroom in goal-setting. Work with individuals and spend time talking about what your group will do together in the coming year. The first week or two of school can be filled with hope and ambition. Why not harness those emotions to plan a big service project?
- Give yourself the first couple of nights off. This, I think, is literally impossible the first few years of teaching, but once one hits a certain level of teaching expertise, it’s possible to work ahead and buy some precious self-care time.
Teaching – especially teaching in the social and emotional planes – is incredibly hard work. Intentionally starting a new year by exuding positive emotions changes the tone of homeroom and contributes momentum that can energize 10 months of learning.