Going back to school was always a big deal for me as a kid. It was important to us; our mom made it such a big deal. It was cool to hook up with our friends in a different setting other than a swimming pool, baseball diamond, or on a bike. It was also a chance to see girls again. They typically didn’t figure into our summer plans.
University was similarly exciting. At both Waterloo and Toronto there was the excitement of first finding the right building and then the right room inside that building. To top it off, there were new friends to make.
I thought that it was all like that in education. It was only when I became a teacher that I realized that there was a difference when you’re on the other side of things.
My first day of teaching was exciting too. I’d been in to organize my classroom, set up computers and accounts for students, read and memorized the teacher manual from front to back, laid out my seating plans, had all the textbooks sorted by their number, and was ready for the big day. I wore my best shirt and tie, suit jacket, and shoes and was good to go. Oh, and I found socks. I hate wearing socks. I had even gone through my class lists test speaking the names so that I was prepared. I’m sure my wife was relieved to see me off.
Then it came. It wasn’t to be a regular school day. There was a staff meeting before and after school and we would run on a shortened period day so that we could see all of our classes. District 34 had had a new teacher day in advance and I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were two other brand new teachers at my school.
The day started.
The staff meeting was interesting. We had a staff of close to 70 but there were no introductions. We just got to it. There was a “Welcome Back” from the principal and then the vice-principal took us through the teacher manual. It was probably designed for the three of us because everyone else in the room was bored and clock watching.
We were reminded that the supervision schedule and study hall kicked in today. (Thankfully, I wasn’t on duty) Importantly, we were told to bring our textbook signups to the library at the end of the day and that there would be no students added or dropped from classes this year. New this year, there would be no interruptions on the PA system during class. They’d save them all to the end of the period. Off we went…
… to our department work area where we had another meeting. There, I got introduced to the rest of the Business Department and we went through the textbook routine again. Apparently, this is a big thing. I vowed to make it right. I also found out that I had “Junior Lunch” today. In all my planning, I hadn’t been considerate to myself.
Next up – homeroom. In retrospect, it would have made sense to give me a Grade 9 class. But, I had Grade 12s and they knew the ropes. I was just trying to figure out which end of the rope was which. Our school didn’t have bells or buzzers to signal the beginning and end of classes so they knew enough to be there at the right time. At least we all stood up for “Oh Canada”.
The rest of the day was spent with mini-classes.
I was prepared. We were going to do attendance, introduce ourselves, hand out textbooks, enjoy some computer jokes, write our first program together and there was a fun history of computing homework assignment to do.
Some of my learnings from there …
- despite LaSalle being such a big community with a French heritage, the students didn’t like a French pronunciation of their name. Read it as it sounds, sir
- students hate sitting in alphabetical order. So much for the piece of advice we got at the faculty
- students were indeed added “on the fly” throughout the day despite the rules that we heard at the staff meeting
- forget the no messages on the PA system bit. Whenever anyone, including the secretaries, wanted something, they would just “Pardon the interruption but …”
- there a million different ways to screw up handing out textbooks – “Sir, I’m dropping this course so I don’t want one, I’m not signing that I received this book in good shape – it’s not, how do I know what number this book is?, why do I have to print and then write my name?, I like this one better than that one”
- I’m not introducing myself – everyone knows me – so glad I hadn’t planned on a ice breaker that required some effort
- on a shortened day, it’s a run to get to the other end of the school and the staff lunchroom, never mind eating and getting back
- I have to go to the bathroom – coffee isn’t always a good thing
- I wasn’t the only one who wanted to go to the bathroom – this will be known as the school with the bad bladders
- we never got to the jokes and other things like writing our first program were just me dreaming
- don’t lean against the blackboard with chalk written on it
- even though the school is air conditioned, it gets hot when you try to look professorial in your suit jacket
- if you’re sharing a classroom with someone else, they fully expect to get started on time
- chairs instead of desks seem like a good idea – you know collaboration, groups, etc. But they should be on my terms no some ad hoc whim to talk to a friend
- timing is everything and I have a lot, a big lot to learn
- I’m going to have to grow into this class management thing. I had a new appreciation for Whack-a-Mole
It was a really, really long day. By the end of the day, I was convinced this was going to be a lot harder job than I thought. But, I got paid! In my mailbox, there was the advance payment that I’m told covered bills accumulated over the summer.
Then, we’re off to the end of the day meeting. I found out that I had done the textbook signup wrong. It was supposed to be in numeric order and not alphabetic. Plus, I was supposed to bring down the left over books for storage. There was a big debate about whether tomorrow would be Day 1 or Day 2. We had another review of the handbook before being dismissed.
I noticed that there were fewer people at the end of the day meeting. I found out that, if you coached, you could now have practices since the school year had started.
So much for the exciting start to a year and a career. I learned a lot from that experience. The most important thing – Day 1 is all about administration. The real teaching excitement starts on Day 2.
For those of you getting back at it today, I wish you all the best.