I am always so anxious about the first day of school. I feel like I am going on a first date with each of my new students all at the same time. What if they don’t like me? What if they don’t listen to my stories? What if they ignore me? But it’s even more then that because they are depending on me. It is my job to take care of not only their little bodies but their hearts and their minds.
And then a friend asked me to imagine how the kids feel. And so I tried to remember being a small and confused 2nd grader. I remembered wondering when lunch would ever come and really having to go to the bathroom but being afraid to ask. I remembered not knowing how to tell time and not knowing if I would ever get to go home. I remembered that there were so many things I was not suppose to do. I remembered a feeling of helplessness and fear.
This week I thought of my 2nd grade self and with each choice and each decision I made on those first days I imagined how the kids were feeling and realized that so much of the way we do school never takes into account how the kids feel. We, the adults, have an agenda. We need to establish our structures, our routines, our schedules. We need to get these students from point A to point B in an orderly way. We need to make sure we are on time so we don’t muck up the workings of the system. We need to cover the curriculum. They need to read for X number of minutes and write for X number of minutes. Math is from 11:05-12:05 and lunch isn’t until 12:55 despite their rumbling tummies.
I looked at my schedule and I looked at those little beings and thought about how they were feeling. I decided to make school about them. I listened to their voices and watched their faces. When they were hungry I pulled out a box of cereal. We traipsed to the bathroom so many times. I acknowledged every boo boo and wiggly tooth. I honored restless bodies. I said yes as often as I could. I empathized when they just wanted to go home.
Everything seemed to take twice as long as it needed to. I watched minute after minute of instructional time slip away. A small nagging voice in the back of my head kept saying “You aren’t getting anything done!”
And then each night I went home and thought about the day. Thought about the kids. Thought about the connections we had made through smiles, hugs, tears and squabbles. I thought about morning smiles and end of day tired faces. And I realized that we were accomplishing everything. We were learning to take care of each other. We were learning to belong to each other.
All that other stuff, it’s time will come. And we will be ready.