In a word: exhausting. I forget, every summer, how demanding the job is. You have to be "on" every minute. You can't zone out and answer an e-mail or go get a cup of coffee. Even walking the halls during break or lunch, you're likely to be accosted by a student who wants to transfer into your class, or an administrator who reminds you to turn in your lesson plans, or a colleague who wants to know if you can cover her club meeting the following week.
My voice is shot, too. Ever year Rob and I think we're coming down with a bug in the first week; then we realize we've gone from talking a normal amount to talking nonstop for many hours each day. This is particularly true in the first week, as there is so much lecturing to do and so little interaction.
Jim Burke's Teacher's Daybook has the following tip for the first week of school:
Greet your students. Shake their hands. Smile. Communicate your high expectations and your commitment to help them all meet those expectations. Establish an atmosphere of respect for ideas, cultures, differences, and people. Reinforce these ideas through your own actions and assignments. Do whatever you must to ensure students leave class that first week thinking, "Wow, things are really going to happen in this class."
Oh, that's all? Thanks, Jim.
There really is a lot of pressure about the first week. I remember my professor from last year, who said, "On the first day, the students are yours to lose. They're fresh from summer and they're ready to learn. You just have to draw them in."
So here's what I did in the first week:
- Taught my SAT students the difference between school tests and the SAT. Told them they were going to have to think differently in my class, and proved it with relevant examples. Got lots of "whoaaaaa!"s.
- Spent 15 minutes on the phone with an irate parent who wants her daughter to be exempt from the final exam, but doesn't want to fulfill the exemption conditions of registering her for the SAT in June.
- Showed my Journalism students this video about the nations of the world and started them on a three-day research binge, labeling and finding facts about every nation whose population exceeds one million.
- Lost a Journalism student who was overwhelmed by the amount of computer skills we had to have. (I had them insert a text box in Microsoft Word. It's probably a good thing she dropped before we start learning Adobe Creative Suite 6 . . . )
- Assigned a cross-disciplinary project to my American Literature class, who had to read The Secret Life of Bees over the summer. Among the choices: a series of photos of interracial couples, a taste-testing buffet of baked goods with honey, a literary analysis of the book in comparison with Winnie the Pooh and some Bees, and a restructuring of the movie's soundtrack to classical pieces that reflect the rhythm of the hive.
- Won the students' hearts by telling them I had successfully lobbied for an experimental curriculum that would ditch the vocabulary books in favor of contextual learning. Started a vocabulary blog for the students to post quotes from the book, suggested definitions and context clues.
- Graded a first-day quiz that proved several students had watched the movie, not read the book. If they won't read The Secret Life of Bees, how in the world will they read The Great Gatsby?
Following that, I went to the beach, bringing along a couple of books I needed to re-read. (Has Melville ever written anything remotely palatable? Can we all just forget he ever existed and write him out of the canon?)
Here's hoping this is the year I get it all right.