Monday, August 28, 2017
The Night Before
T'was the night before students, and all through my noggin
My thoughts were all stirring, like a drunken toboggan.
My artwork was hung on the corkboard with care
In hopes that my students would soon ‘nough be there.
The textbooks are nestled all snug on the shelves
It took me six hours—what? You think I have elves?
Yeah, my wife in her classroom and I in my cap
Just hoped by October we’ll get just one nap,
But up in my brainpan there rose such a clatter
I tossed and I turned thinking “What's still the matter?"
In my head I kept wondering what might ail my plans--
Did I skip a main point? Did I use comic sans?
My brain , so wrapped up in the things I can’t know
Gives a lustre of panic to my gut far below.
Would some jolly old man come, my classroom to save?
No, my admin’s a ma’m who expects I’ll behave.
So we’ll skip the poem section with deux ex Santa,
And go straight to the—crap! What the hell rhymes with Santa?
I’ve had this day many times—over three dozen
And still, night before, you’ll find me sucking lozen--
ges made to help fight nervous heartburn
As I wonder—will I see this year’s student crop learn?
Will I get them to scale the great education wall?
Or will they dash away, dash away, dash away all
Will they spark to the classics? Will my team hear me whistle?
Or will I chow down on failure tough as dried thistle?
Oh, I know it’s just jitters, those pre-curtain nerves.
When the curtain goes up, I’ll feel power and lerves.
But until then I’ll lie here with mares of the night.
Happy first day tomorrow! There’s no sleep tonight.
Tomorrow is the first day back for students, which means it's one night I'm guaranteed the Teacher Nightmare. Ordinary people have night mares about showing up in church without pants. Teachers have night mares about showing up for class without plans and the students are out of control or you can't even find your own classroom. Basically a complete professional collapse.
Tonight, despite all the preparation, despite all the experience, there's a million things we can't know until we meet the students, see what they know, see how they tick, see who will come running to meet us and who will stay back throwing rocks in our general direction. We've rehearsed many times (for some of us many, many, many times) and yet that rehearsal was only to be ready for the unexpected, not to lock everything into immutable place.
Our success will depend on our preparation, our knowledge of the material, and-- scariest of all-- our willingness to be present, to be really there with our students. Which of course means we have to be vulnerable. And so, when the fear and uncertainty hit, the most natural impulse in the world is to protect ourselves, to cover up. And yet to do that is to wall ourselves off from our students, to deny a teacher-student relationship with them, to be rigid, guarded, even defensive. All of which only gets in the way of the work.
And newbies-- here's one of the secrets they never tell you-- you will never be absolutely certain, never believe that you have everything under control, never reach a point where you are certain you have nothing left to learn or perfect or grow. (This is why I'm certain that some charter operators and school leaders like Eva Moskowitz don't know what they're talking about-- because they're 100% certain they know what they're talking about, and if you're 100% certain, then you don't understand the situation).
This year comes with extra nervousness at our house. For the first time in twelve weeks, for a few hours, we will be parting company with these guys:
I did this thirty-ish years ago, and it was hard then. To take two tiny humans that you have cared for and in whom you've invested your whole heart, and turn them over to somebody else while you go off to work. I can't tell you how many times I got all weepy over leaving my first two, and I don't expect it's going to be any better this time.
But it's a reminder-- every student who sits in my classroom was somebody's baby. I teach high school students, so they're not very babylike now, and yeah, I know not all parents are fully invested in their kids. But still. These were somebody's babies, and those somebodies mostly trust us with that precious cargo. They deserve the best I can give them, and they deserve someone who shows up 100%, and they deserve someone who watches out for them and helps them discover what it means for them to be fully human, fully themselves in the world. And when I'm in my room and they're walking it, it will hit me like a bathtub full of warm water and the nerves and the worry will just slough off.
But for right now I am going to finish up and probably not sleep, because I think I need to rewrite a couple of questions on the quiz tomorrow, and I didn't get papers set out for third period and I think I need to re-arrange the desks a little. And I never got around to picking out a shirt today. And to all a good night.