7:30AM – My boys hugged, first day picture taken on the front steps, Eden and I are in the car on our way to school. One of the biggest perks of my new job was the opportunity to take Eden my youngest daughter to work with me. She is a wickedly smart five year old, who despite her proficiency at running my household – yes she cleans bathrooms- still needs her mom. So it is the first day for us both…and we both have the jitters. With only slivers of sleep and an army of butterflies flitting in my brain, I miss our exit and my 25 minute commute turns into 45…”Not good,” I chide myself, “Success is in the details.”
Still we arrive early and I hurry down the hall to my classroom, to discover I have decided to take my daughter to work…she looks at me.
“Now what am I supposed to do, Mommy.” I realize with shock I never really thought through what it would be like to arrive at school early and stay late with a five year old who needs to be entertained. The plan which sounded so lovely when I shared it with my friends, is a little less rosy with a huge task list and a child who wonders if you could play play-doh for a few minutes first.
We manage somehow, and by 8:40AM I am standing in the school yard shouting out my name along with the other teachers to parents. “Mrs. Fante, if you child has Mrs. Fante, Please line up here. “ No one moves towards me. I glance to the side and there are other teacher receiving hugs and welcoming greetings from parents as their line start to swell with children. But at my name no one moves.
Oh boy, this is terrible. I wonder, am I at the wrong school? Is this teaching elementary school thing a dream…maybe I will wake up back in my office at the college. A dad wanders up. Try, “Mrs. Miller, they still had her name on the school website.”
And suddenly at my cries of, “Mrs. Miller” an army of children file towards me. Mostly shy and wide eyed they cling to parent’s sleeves, and offer my tentative smiles. Some ask to take a picture while others are so unsure.
I am taken back at their beauty. Children are indeed lovely creatures. They faces full of hope at the promise of a new school year, skin smooth unmarked by the care of the world. I realize these small tiny people are my new co-workers and I share twin responses of terror and elation. I am hoping to change the educational world in some way this year, and I my plan rests squarely on the shoulder of six year olds.
We file into the hallway, and I have them line up against the outside wall of my classroom. I sneak a peek, OK so the other teachers are doing this too. I have planned this moment for some time. I am going to teach them the morning routine with care and precision fostering their independence. I instructed them to empty backpacks outside the classroom, hang it on the hook, and go inside the classroom and find your name tag and sit down.
The plan is simple, eloquent, so I think. I tap 5 children, and then turn to talk to the rest about how excited I am to have them in my class. I tap 5 more enjoying our engaging conversation with the remaining children in the hall, by the time I get to 15 children I look up see the children are faithfully following my instructions and they have emptied everything our of their backpacks on the floor. One little girl is shaking out her backpack and a pile of glue-sticks spill out rolling pell- mell everywhere across the tile. In fact, the pile is so large it is blocking the hallway. I glance up and see with horror a line of sixth graders is headed our way and there is no way they are getting past that pile of stuff.
“OK, children…new plan. Just go inside the classroom and I will take care of the supplies.” Now I am sweating, hurrying frantically to and fro to gather armfuls of supplies as the sixth graders tap dance around pocket folders and crayons, I hear a few giggles. A literacy consultant comes down the hall, she watches me bend and stoop and immediately offers to help.
“Yes, please. This was much better in my head when I planned it out.” is all I can manage as we lug the rest of the pile inside.
With kindness she says simply, “It’s OK, you don’t know what you don’t know.”
And this as it turns out will be my anthem for much of this first week.
I will hear the tune when the office buzzes me for not taking morning attendance…which I thought we turned in after the day was over. And when there is a surprise fire drill and I realize with panic I have no idea where to line up. And again I hear the notes after morning recess when I fail to count heads and my teaching partner returns one of them to me.
By the time the office buzzes me for the ordering and buying counts, I want to shout back at the intercom…”I have no idea, but I can give you a list of my professional accomplishments if you give me a minute.” And with another jolt I realize all of the workshops, awards, and professional writing done in another world have little meaning here.
What matters here is that you line up the hot and cold lunchers separately and in A, B, C, order, that you have labeled a laundry basket for cold lunch boxes, and a milk crate for media center returns, and the can look at a child and know where they need to be for each of the four afternoon pick-up spots. Perhaps my most shinning moment happens when my sixth graders fail to show up for the bussers. (apparently I was supposed to request this) and I hear the intercom last call for bussers and ask the children to run “carefully” down the hall after me.
I feel so awkward at this, the routine are so unfamiliar and new. I have spent the last few years gliding through my professional tasks with ease of habits and respect of my colleagues and now I am in a new world. Yet, there are wonderful moments mixed in. The first time I read a story…it is magical. They quiet instantly. A boy in the front raises his hand, “Why do you smile so much? And why are you so excited about being here?” I peer down at him, and answer honestly, “I have been waiting to be here for a LONGGG time.” He accepts this answer and smiles back.
I tell these children I have a secret wish. I look at their faces filled with hope, and I leap back onto the ledge. “Children I would like for us to be the best class in the …._________” Now I had planned to say school, or maybe even district. But looking at them, and thinking about my journey to get to this spot the moment is sacred, even spiritual. “Well, the best class in the WORLD. What do you think?” Stunned by my own question…I can’t belief I just asked that… nothing like shooting for the moon. But with the magical belief of childhood, without any hesitation, they eagerly shake their heads and clap in agreement.
And later that week at Open House when I announce this plan to the parents and unveil my nightly reading program which is researched based, but will require a rigorous effort not usually expected of Title 1 parents, they pledge their support. Some of them cannot speak English, so I grab other bi-lingual parents I ask them to interpret and explain my goal for these children. Many of them cannot understand my words, but they see the passion on my face and they respond. We are going to do this, we are reaching for greatness…and we are not leaving anyone behind.
By the end of the week, I am exhausted. My voice is gone, my credit card full of school related charges, my brain popping with ideas on how to stream-line routines, and find guided reading books in English and Arabic. And so my anthem takes on another stanza one that is more familiar, one that I know so well…”For I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”