Teacher Voice Episode 1: Teachers Give a Snapshot of the First Day of School
This podcast episode is the first episode of the EdTech Times “Teacher Voice” podcast series.
Let’s go back to the first day of school. The buzz of children slowly grows louder the minutes before the bell rings, disrupting months of relative silence in the halls. Wearing their brand new back to school outfits, students slam lockers and run to the first class of the day. Or, stumble around in packs looking for it.
But what goes on behind the scenes? Before the bell? Before the bus? When it’s just a teacher sitting in a classroom alone.
Every fall, teachers across the country step into their classrooms and prepare for that first day with their students. Before that new class of students walk into that room, there are all sorts of thoughts, anxieties, and other feelings swelling in the mind and body of a teacher.
This year, we caught up with a crew of teachers in their classrooms—15 minutes before the kids come pouring in—to ask them to share what they’re feeling. Their notes from that first day of school will make up the first few episodes of our “Teacher Voice” podcast series, in which we will share untold stories from teachers around the globe.
Listen in to hear their thoughts, feelings, and observations from the first day of school.
BRIAN CORMIER: My name’s Brian Cormier. And I’m a seventh and eighth grade math teacher at Parker Middle School.
JAKE SMITH: My name is Jake Smith. I teach eighth grade history. This will be my seventh first day of school.
STEVE LANTOS: I am Steve Lantos. I teach chemistry. This is the start of my 33rd year here.
JOEY ESTES: So my name is Joey Estes and I. This is my sixth year teaching. I teach eighth grade English.
JUSTIN KANE: My name is Justin Kane. I am in my first year in this district, and my first full year teaching industrial arts and technical education.
ZOE SHWALJE: My name is Zoe, and I teach fourth grade. And I’ve been teaching for—I believe this is my 18th year in some form of academia.
OSHA WILLIAMS: My name is Osha Williams. And I teach 11th and 12th graders learning English as another language. Also teaching the subjects English and the senior research seminar.
DAVE MEYERS: Is there something you’re excited about or nervous about that you’re going to be doing in the first couple of weeks of school?
OSHA WILLIAMS: Well, I would say that I was really excited to get back in the classroom. Because I was like, “Oh my gosh last year went so fast!” and I didn’t feel as though I had really given them my best all year. And I was like OK I want to start off on a strong foot, and I did all this planning. But I also recognize that being outside of the classroom, you plan idealistically.
ZOE SHWALJE: I was up all night. I never sleep the night before school starts. I think I just have I just want it to be perfect. And I just get anxious about it, like they do. And I tell them that. I tell them I get nervous too.
JOEY ESTES: Probably a few weeks before school starts, you start getting back to school nightmares about, you know, not being able to control your classroom. Where like, you forget all your stuff, or you know, that kind of thing.
BRIAN CORMIER: In the school in general there’s quite a buzz around the school knowing that the kids are coming in. We in our district we we have two days of professional development to start the year. And you know basically we’re all just thinking about that first day. The teachers are all excited. This is what we do this for.
STEVE: It’s that first day for so many years is always preceded by terrifying dreams. They’re called late summer teacher dreams and they usually manifest as I show up for the first day and I’m halfway through my routine and look down and realize I have no clothes on. Or like those typical college dreams that you have where you wake up in a cold sweat because you’re sitting for your final exam and you realize you haven’t attended the course the entire semester.
JUSTIN KANE: I have been in classrooms for 10 years as a long-term sub, as a special education paraprofessional, as a transition specialist. I’ve taught a number of different subjects for various lengths of time in various schools. And so I felt pretty comfortable that I was going to be able to work with whoever came through the door.
DAVE MEYERS: So I’m looking around the classroom and I see things one would expect in a chemistry classroom, like the periodic chart, and the electromotive series table. But I’m also seeing a Cuba handbook and announcements about la… viva la evolucion.
STEVE LANTOS: So I do a lot of traveling and have traveled a lot during vacations and summers over my time as a teacher. And so some of what I bring to my classroom as in classes as a teacher is kind of worldliness.
STEVE LANTOS: I run our China exchange program here so I spend time in China and I send teachers and students to China representing our school. So you’re looking at basically my life on the walls here.
DAVE MEYERS: What do you see?…What do you hear?…What’s going on in the room right now?
JUSTIN KANE: So my shop is at the end of a very long hallway in a far corner of the school. So you sort of walk and walk and walk and there are no other doors. And then you come to my door. So standing out outside my door, as one does waiting for my first students, I realized that—while that is excellent pedagogical technique—they have to walk 150 feet or so, with really nothing to do but make eye contact with me. And it was so incredibly awkward, that I ended up giving that up and going back in there. Because again, my first concern was really that they were comfortable.
BRIAN CORMIER: It’s a lot of kids talking about math, doing math. And you know, seeing this scene with the kids, what the kids’ expectations are. You know, with my seventh graders, we do some “get to know you” things, introduce your partner sort of deal. With my eighth graders, I had them all the previous year. So we we really hit the ground running.
DAVE MEYERS: How are you feeling? Like, right now. How are you feeling? What’s top of your mind? What are you thinking?
JAKE SMITH: I’m just thinking, like, I’m very, very excited to get started. I want to meet the kids. I’m excited to meet them. I’m excited for them to meet me. I really am excited to get the school year started. Which isn’t always the case this time in the morning. But definitely today. I’m excited to be here, and I want to get started.
BRIAN CORMIER: In general, at the top of my mind is smiling, and making the students feel comfortable. They come in right away.
BRIAN CORMIER: They, you know, they don’t know what to expect necessarily. They may have heard things. Maybe one of their siblings had me as a teacher. And I want I want my classroom to be a place where they feel comfortable and accepted. So I like that that sort of attitude and feeling.
BRIAN CORMIER: That’s why my first goal is to make them feel comfortable, and to be comfortable with each other. I want them to know that I’m happy to see them, and so on from there. Then I want to make sure that they also know that we’re there to work. We’re there to work, so we’re just going to just start doing math, right away. That’s on my mind.
ZOE SHWALJE: That first day at school, I really want to make sure that everything goes smoothly. I want them to go home and have had a great day. I want them to go home and feel good about what fourth grade is going to be like. I want them to have a good understanding and excitement about everything we’re going to be doing next year.
OSHA WILLIAMS: You can plan for days, but then find that, on this particular day something happened to the student, where they need to engage with that.
OSHA WILLIAMS: It’s not about planning, it’s not about preparing. You can’t prepare enough to be ready in the moment. Because you don’t know what’s going to be coming into the classroom. So just being ready to make sure that there’s a baseline understanding of love, respect, and valuing the space for community and education at the outset, really sets a precedent for students to know, “OK, we’re here to do something positive.”
JOEY ESTES: This year I just felt so calm about it was just this is I knew a lot of these kids this is where I was supposed to be.
DAVE MEYERS: Between the anxiety dreams and days of planning, there’s a lot going on in teacher’s minds in those minutes and days leading up to that first day of school.
DAVE MEYERS: But as any teacher knows, all that planning and anticipation pays off as you watch each and every student learn and grow throughout the school year.
DAVE MEYERS: This is Dave Meyers for Edtech Times.
This podcast episode is sponsored by TeachersConnect, a community built by teachers, for teachers.
To learn more about how TeachersConnect infuses PK-12 teachers with skill, confidence, and joy, visit teachersconnect.com.
Hannah Nyren is the General Manager of EdTech Times. A Texan by birth but a Bostonian at heart, Hannah is an educational writer, AmeriCorps alum, and one-time StartupWeekend EDU (SWEDU) winning team member. She started her career at a Pearson-incubated edtech startup, but has since covered travel, food & culture, and even stonemasonry in addition to education.