First Day Disasters and Other Tales of a New Teacher

January 13, 2015, In: Teaching Tales

I think it’s normal to be a blend of nervous and excited before your first day of school. I know I have always had butterflies before I walk into a classroom for the first time, not sure whether to anticipate first day disasters or triumphant beginnings.

I played the “hurry up and wait” game for nearly three months as I navigated all of the intricacies of applying for a job with the U.S. government overseas. They don’t mess around. Especially when it comes to the people who want to work with their children. (Even just as a substitute!) By the time I got the letter that cleared me to work, a lot of my nerves had settled. But that’s because I didn’t know what my first day was going to hold.

They asked me to report to the front office at 8:30 so they could show me to my classroom before the kids came in at 8:45a.m. I planned on being early. However, I lowered myself into my very mini mini, with my lunch and coffee in hand. I held the coffee between my legs (just for a minute) while I reached over to flip the cup holder down. And just as I did, the coffee tipped and poured onto my crotch.

“Damn.” I jumped out to assess the damage. It definitely looked (and felt) like I had peed right into my purple jeans. I ran back upstairs and changed. On the way there I noticed that my sweater was also coffee-stained, and said a silent prayer of thanks for the Tide-To-Go pen in my purse. The sweater will never be completely white again, but it would make it through the day.

By the time I got to school it was almost exactly 8:30. Excellent. I spent the next 15 minutes trying to figure out how to turn on the “smart board” which made me feel pretty darn dumb. I picked up the “Notes for the Sub” about 15 seconds before the bell rang signaling that the kids were on their way.

I like to think I have pretty solid classroom management skills. This was always the biggest piece of praise I got from instructors and supervisors. But, with that said, I finished my student teaching in 2011 and (I cringe to admit), I haven’t been back in a classroom since. To say that I’m a bit rusty is putting it very mildly.

As they filed in and launched right into their morning routine (snacks up, attendance magnets moved, assigned duties read) they took one look at the lady holding the lesson plans in one hand and the remote for the smart board in the other and started sizing me up.

I had about 30 seconds to make a solid first impression before I lost them forever. I wrote my name on the board. “I’m Mrs. Arnholt,” I said without a smile. I had to come in strong. “I know you guys are getting a new teacher soon, but I am going to be your sub until she gets here in a few weeks.” (Did I mention all of those hoops I had to jump through to get hired? Well… it’s her turn) “We are going to follow your normal routine and keep learning so we can really impress her with how much you know by the time she gets here.” Now I smiled. “Does anyone have any questions for me?”

Hands shot up. The first few asked typical second grade questions, “How long?” “Do you know our old teacher?” etc. And then I got the best question of the day. Maybe the best question ever.

“Why is your voice so squeaky?”

I wish I could say the kid was trying to be funny, but let me assure you, he wasn’t. It was just an honest question, asked with a straight face, as he tried to piece together why the new teacher’s voice didn’t sound like his old teacher. And I couldn’t keep a straight face.

“That’s a great question,” I said trying not to laugh. “But I don’t have a good answer. Okay! Let’s move on to calendar time.”

The day progressed in about the same way.

One kid got a bloody nose and another one started crying so hard he hyperventilated… all before lunch. No big deal. All things I have been trained to handle.

I would read the lesson plan quickly as I was telling them which books to get. They thought it was hilarious when I told them to get their math books and we all sat down again just to realize we needed the “workbooks” not the books. Let me just say for the record that I think it is entirely unnecessary to have a math textbook, a math workbook and a math journal for different times of the day! What happened to trapper keepers with subject dividers?!?

I got everyone really confused when I referred to myself as Miss Morris, rather than Mrs. Arnholt. One student threw his head back and said, “Are we getting ANOTHER new teacher!?” Rather than explain that I was recently married and not used to be a Mrs. I just let them stay confused and moved on.

By the end of the day I felt like I had built some rapport. The only real disaster had been that I wasn’t prepared enough to effectively follow the lesson plan.

Solution: I stayed until the sun went down. I read through every lesson plan of the week. I read every text book. I re-familiarized myself with second grade math strategies. I studied the classroom lingo. I took notes on the lesson plans and then wrote notes my notes. I went through dozens of post-its, used every highlighter I could find, and got the chart paper ready for the next day. I drew graphs, I got the word wall words ready, I changed all of the cards for their “duties” the following morning.

Then, on an over-achieving whim, I decided to sharpen all of their pencils. They have little “supply” boxes in the center of their tables (five tables total) with cups full of pencils in them. Most of the pencils are dull, and I’d noticed a permanent line at the pencil sharpener was their favorite way to avoid doing work. “Not tomorrow!” I thought triumphantly. I gathered all of the pencils and spent twenty minutes sharpening them until the lead shimmered. I put them back in their supply boxes, locked the door, and went home.

This morning I felt prepared. During the morning meeting, I introduced a new behavior motivator in the form of a spiral drawn on a dry erase board and a ticket system. (Worked like a charm, by the way. They are fabulously ticket-motivated children). All was well until I sent them to their tables to write the morning’s sentence.

And then came the melt downs. “What happened to my pencils?!” Umm… “Where is my little pencil?” Answer: I had thrown it away because it was two inches long and could hardly be sharpened. “Who has my pencil with the green eraser?” Answer: someone else. “Where is my yellow pencil with the 2 on it?”

Oh for heaven’s sake.

My best intentions left them devastated. All day they tried to figure out the mystery of the re-distributed pencils. In the end, I won them over. As for the pencils… I never came clean.

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  1. Pingback: On Three Months in Japan

    • Ellis Vaughan
    • February 6, 2015

    Loved reading this.

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