I’d like for you to think about the very first day of school you can remember. I can clearly remember mine - Kindergarten, day one. I specifically remember one very BIG part of it… the dinosaur. I remember walking into Ms. Levi’s class and seeing a HUGE dinosaur skeleton made out of cardboard pieces. I’m sure if I saw that same skeleton now, I would laugh at how not big it probably actually was, but to a five year-old, I’m sure it was pretty impressive.
I remember the wonder. The excitement. The feeling of butterflies in my stomach. The nervousness as my mom let go of my hand and walked out the door. I was alone, but I was ready.
This past spring, I accepted a new position in my district that transitioned me from the high school to several elementary schools. I could easily write a whole post about why I decided to make the move (maybe that will come in the future), but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about a very specific experience that I had the opportunity to be a part of just the other day, that I know was a seriously formative moment in my growth as an educator.
Being the new guy around at the school, I was still taking some time to settle in to my new school. I saw my principal in the hall just as kids were starting to arrive on the first day for students, and I asked how I could help. She encouraged me to help greet the kids, but to definitely go support the Kindergarteners as they arrived a bit later in the morning.
When the time came, I made my way down to the Kindergarten wing and met the teachers. Their energy was contagious. Their excitement for the new year and for greeting their new students was palpable. One of the teachers brought the whole team together just as we were going to open the doors to welcome the families, and said “Alright everyone, HANDS IN! Let’s go, KINDERGARTEN on three! One! Two! Three! KINDERGARTEN!” Like the Patriots getting ready for a big game, Team Kindergarten was ready to go. The doors opened, and parents and our newest students made their way into the school for the first time.
As the doors were flung open, the teachers stood on each side of the hall, clapping, saying hello and cheering for their new students. I’m not sure if this is something the teachers do every year, but I immediately thought of how at the high school graduation, the same graduation that these five year olds will most likely attend in a mere twelve years, the graduating seniors make their way into the gymnasium for the commencement through a cheering and clapping gauntlet of high school teachers.
As the students made their way down the hall way, clutching their parent’s hand, many looked around in awe. This was when I found myself returning to Ms. Levi’s class. I remembered that feeling - that nervous excitement, the feeling of hopeful uncertainty. I watched as the children made their way into their classrooms, found their cubby (all by themselves, one added) and then took a seat at their desks. One girl, as she sat down, took her time, feeling and tracing her name on the laminated name tag on her desk. Full of pride, she looked up at her dad, smiling a big, toothy grin.
These students were ready whether they knew it or not. They were being welcomed into a nurturing place of caring, respect and community. This is what it’s all about.
Okay, yeah, so maybe this post is a bit rosy in the glasses department. Still, I think it’s important for us to think and reflect on new beginnings, no matter how big or how small. For me, at least this year, it’s a whole different kind of first day of school, but one that I welcome and that I’m ready for.
What can we learn from a Kindergartner’s first day of school? I think, as teachers, we can do our best to facilitate and celebrate that same wonder and awe that those little guys felt when they walked in to their classrooms. Believe me - I know (first hand) that fifteen year olds might not be feeling the same way, but I do believe that all students have a little part of them that is excited for a new beginning. Often times at the older grades, understandably new beginnings might manifest more in the social emotional hemisphere of the student experience, and the same might be true for many younger students, but as teachers, it’s our responsibility to nurture these important transitional moments in our students’ lives.
I’m grateful for reliving the wonder, the excitement, those pesky butterflies, that feeling of dread as Mom or Dad walked away and back out through the doors. Over the past few weeks, as I’ve transitioned to my new position, I’ve felt many of the same feelings as those Kindergarteners. I hope those students find their own dinosaur, just like I did, something that they will hold on to and use to help them remember this special time in their lives.
But, just like those kids looked up and saw their teachers clapping and cheering as they walked through those doors, I feel supported. I’m ready, too.