Saturday, August 30, 2008

First Day of School

The first day of school--I remember many of these days, even from my youth, which was a V-E-R-Y long time ago! They say you don't forget things like the smell of the newly waxed floors, scent of a new box of crayons as you open them, the crisp fall air, new shoes that make blisters on your feet before noon on that first day! And we hear the roar of the yellow school buses as they begin their rounds in the neighborhoods to bring the less than enthusiastic scholars back to the reality of nine months of learning, cutting short their summertime fun.

I've been teaching since 1980, so I remember the first days of school well as a teacher. I began my first paid gig as a teacher of preschool at the local YMCA. I developed this preschool program, and stuck with it for 5 years, until I needed to move on to finish my bachelor's degree. I worked with some great people as co-teachers, and I know that two of these ladies are still at it today! (See First Day of School #2) Then I became an elementary school teacher for 11 years, then an elementary school principal and teacher for 7-1/2 years.

The year I had to quit being a teacher was very disorienting. At this time, my dear hubby was very seriously ill, and needed medical attention several times a week. My decision to step aside as principal/teacher was based on the demands on my time that teaching took, which were seriously compromised by my need to attend to my hubby's medical needs. Also, this was the time in our lives when he and I needed to spend lots of time together, because time at this point was very precious, we knew we had limited time left to be together.

But my desire to teach never left me. The fall after I quit my elementary principal/teacher post, I was a lost soul. They say retirees from the teaching profession react strongly to the first day of school (seeing the yellow school buses roll again), especially the first year after they retire. They either have pangs of longing to experience that first day of school again, or are jumping for joy that they are no longer involved. For me, it was pangs of longing.

I know that God was watching out for me that year, because He dropped something I needed very badly right in my lap. I was attending college to attain another certificate of proficiency, this time in English as a Second Language teaching. I had about 1/2 of my course work completed. Most of my classmates were already involved in teaching, either in the regular classroom, or as an ESL teacher. So when the call came through our advisor that the local community college was looking for potential teachers of ESL, I was the only one who was available because I wasn't already employed. I went to the college and applied. It was the easiest job interview I've ever had! They welcomed me with open arms, made me feel like a queen! When can you start? That was the deciding question. I started the next day! I'm hoping they judged my resume as being a recommendation for giving me the job, not the fact that I had a pulse!

I was given the "less experienced" group to work with, so the challenges were great. But I learned so much from my students, a group of scholarship students from Central America. We all learned together, they learned the language, and I learned about their culture, about their love of learning and the struggles they had experienced getting to the point where they could actually attend college. They were a wonderful and unforgettable group to work with.

The other day, I had a little reminder of those first days of ESL teaching and of my first group of ESL students. A small note fell out of one of my books that I had used, it was written in careful English manuscript. "Thank you for being our teacher, you are patient and kind." Signed (one of the female students). I will cherish that note forever. It was written in a style similar to my young students that I taught for my first years of teaching in elementary school. But, it was so special to me.

We began our first day of school this week. City buses and cars have replaced yellow school buses to bring my students to school. No crayons in college, but new notebooks and supplies are brought out and used. I did get blisters on my feet before noon, wearing sandals all summer makes the transition to closed shoes a painful experience! So far things are going well, and I have a very talented group of students to work with. Again, for me it is a learning experience because of the mixture of cultures that are represented in my class. Their desire for education is also very evident. And as far as my teaching goes, I hope to always be patient and kind, but most of all, I hope to teach for a long time to come!

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