The “Firsts” of School

“Every year I forget that I need time to build up my teaching stamina again. You would think that after 10 years I’d remember that I’m always going to be this tired at the beginning, but I never do.”-the ELA teacher on my teaching team

It was as if he knew exactly what I needed to hear so I could stop feeling so entirely ridiculous about my level of exhaustion. During the first few weeks of school I was falling asleep before 10 p.m. and feeling certain I was going to tip over before the final bell at 3:05 p.m. During the first few days of school I would sit in my classroom after all of the students had left for the day and desperately try to recall what had just happened over the last 6 hours. During the first few hours of the first day I only know that I took the advice of my aunt, a now retired fourth grade teacher, and was honest with my students.  As I looked out onto a classroom comprised of 9th and 10th grade students from different continents, different socioeconomic backgrounds, different immigration experiences, and different understandings of family I started by admitting that I was probably as nervous as they were to be inside of my classroom preparing for the new year. And then I promised them that we’d all figure it out and that we’d be just fine.

The good news is, so far, we are. In fact, maybe even better than fine.

"Place a flag on your home country."
“Place a flag on your home country.”

Haiti, Yemen, Iraq, Thailand, Aruba, Uzbekistan, China, Columbia, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Bangladesh, Honduras, Zimbabwe, Ghana, The Ivory Coast, Ecuador, Mexico, Guatemala, Guinea, Vietnam, and Spain.

These are the places where my students hail from. These are the countries that they proudly call their homeland, their motherland, or simply “my country.” It’s easy to see why I sometimes forget that I’m in New York City when I enter the walls of my little international school. You might even say that it’s helped to quell my wanderlust a bit. And while I am thankful every day for this school where students and teachers alike truly have autonomy over the learning that takes place, and the school culture is built on respect for all, it does not come without its challenges.

"Words that describe your home country."
“Put words that describe your home country around the border.”

On any given day I will receive new information that helps me to empathize with and/or piece together the reasons why a student might be having a tough day, might not be at school, or might require a little extra patience—-

“They’re living with a distant uncle and their mother is still back in Africa and she is sick.”

“This student has spent time in three different immigration detention centers over the last year.”

“This student won’t be returning to school for another two weeks because they are ironing out visa issues back in their home country.”

But I’m figuring it out. Bit by bit. Day by day.

In the 16 days of class that we’ve had since starting on September 4, there have been many firsts. I participated in my first family night where I met the mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, grandparents, and cousins of my students. I went on my first field trip to the Museum of the City of New York and Central Park with my kids where I dealt with a student who got motion sick on the subway and threw up all over herself (how do I ALWAYS end up taking care of the pukey kid!?). I began advising my first after school program, STOKED. I experienced my first fire drill and the parading of hundreds of high school students out of a building and onto the sidewalks of Brooklyn. I developed my first bit of curriculum based around the graphic novel The Arrival, by Shaun Tan, and I even caught my first gnarly sickness of the year (It’s official, high schoolers are equally as grubby as primary-aged kids).

from The Arrival, by Shaun Tan

So I guess the wheels are officially in motion and the school year is already in full tilt. Heck, the end of the first marking period is already sneaking up around the corner. But I must go now, it’s nearly 9 p.m. which means it’s practically bedtime.


One thought on “The “Firsts” of School

  1. Thanks for the update. That’s the feeling I have at every new school, the last one went on for the whole year, not from the kids but from the management who evaluated my class by “peeping in the window” as they stated in as letter.

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