Teacher Voice Episode 2: Teachers Share Their Thoughts and Feelings From the First Day of School
As the leaves start to change here in the north east, we rewind again to that first day of school. It’s a given that many students will be nervous. Is my outfit right? Will the other kids in class like me? Will I be able to keep up with the work this year?
But it’s not just kids and teens who get nervous — teachers also have a lot riding on that first day of class.
In part 2 of our Teacher Voice podcast series, we asked educators on their first day of school to pause and reflect on a few questions. In the 15 minutes before the first bell rang signaling the start of a brand new school year, we asked, “What are you confident about, and what’s making you a little nervous?”
Dave Meyers: Up first is Joey Estes, an 8th grade English teacher at Hanson Middle school. She’s beginning her sixth year of teaching, and she’s pretty confident, because of how well she knows most of the students.
Joey Estes: So I have about 90 students, and about 30 of them are students that I’ve had before. I felt confident that I kinda understand this group of kids coming into the school year. So I think I felt the most confident about that. Also, having, this being my fifth year at this school, I felt really confident about the whole day, like what was expected, what was going to happen, what I wanted to do in my classroom, things like that. In the past, I have not felt that confident, but this year something clicked, and I just felt it was the best start to school that I’ve had so far.
Dave Meyers: But Estes has a bunch of questions about what students will bring to the classroom from outside the building, or from previous school years.
Joey Estes: You always kind of worry about the kids themselves, when they come into the classroom. What is their homelife like, did they like school last year? You kind of worry about them in that sort of capacity. And you wonder how that’s going to translate into your classroom. So though I said I did know a lot of the kids, the ones that I didn’t know, I wanted them to be able to come into my classroom and kind of start over. This is a safe space. I always try to make sure that my students know that my classroom is always a place where they can feel safe and comfortable. I always tell them that we are a family. You can’t choose your family. You’re born into it or you’re adopted into it, but you have to love them. Because they’re your family.
Dave Meyers: Third grade teacher Frank Wilburn at the Henry Grew Elementary School says he’s excited about his second “first-day” of school — and he’s happy he’s teaching the same grade two years in a row. He spent a good part of his summer thinking about how to build a strong learning community.
Frank Wilburn: I don’t know them, but I do want to set the tone that throughout this year you’re gonna get to know me, but, I also want to be intentional about how I orient them to each other, because I really want to be intentional about building a community, and what things I need to put in place to help them establish relationships or continue relationships and then maintain them throughout the year, so that it’s a strong community of learners.
Dave Meyers: Zoe Shwalje, who teaches fourth grade, feels confident in her ability to connect with each kid.
Zoe Shwalje: I go out of my way to get to know each kid, and I learned all their names by that first day, I tried to talk to each kid, learn a little bit about them, what were they worried about what were they excited about. So I just felt really good about building rapport from day 1 with my class.
Dave Meyers: John Andrews is a high school English teacher—he mostly teaches sophomores and seniors. This is John’s 26th year. When I ask him how he’s feeling, he jumps in with excitement to describe something brand new he’s trying.
John Andrews: This year I’m trying a new project. There’s a thing I want to do around using the New Yorker as a text in the class. And I’ve never done it before, and it seems like a cool idea. And it’s exciting to have a new thing to try—to know that even after you’ve been doing it for a long time, you’re always bringing in something that’s a challenge for you. And that usually creates the best learning experience in class, when you’re fumbling around in the dark trying to figure something out with the students, then it can turn into something really cool and exciting.
Dave Meyers: Emmanuel Fairly is a third grade teacher at the Henry Grew School. This is his third first-day of school. He’s feeling very excited about a new virtual reality project.
Emmanuel Fairly: So this summer, I did a DonorsChoose project to supplement the reading curriculum that we have: Expeditionary Learning. And I was able to get 10 virtual reality goggles. Which the unit, the curriculum is all about culture and traveling, and taking kids all over the world. And it’s been really fun the last two years, because the kids really get into the different cultures of these different countries. But most of them, because of where we live, have never traveled outside their neighborhood, let alone to another country. So now with these virtual reality goggles, hopefully that takes it to the next level.
Dave Meyers: But Emmanuel says he’s a little nervous because his class size has jumped from 18 last year to 25 this year.
Emmanuel Fairly: And there’s just a world of a difference between 18 and 25 kids, especially when they’re 8 and 9 year olds. And I do think that I was spoiled last year. I got really comfortable with 18 kids. I was like “Oh, this is a good number. It’s even, I can put them into groups. There’s space in the room.”
Emmanuel Fairly: And this year, I’m really feeling it these first couple of days. Like, oh my god, there’s seven extra people in here…who need just as much love and just as much help. And right now they’re giant second graders, which is also really tough for me. So like, getting them to the third grade mindset, like all 25 of them, is gonna be a lot of work.
Dave Meyers: High school chemistry teacher Steve Lantos is getting ready for his 33rd first day of school—as a teacher. Turns out he was also a student, and a student teacher in the same school. Despite his years of experience, this year is going to be a little bit different… because he’ll be teaching his son’s class.
Steve Lantos: So many of the students who I see on my class lists are kids who I’ve known since their bris, bar mitzvah, pizza parties, birthdays, and sleepovers. So I wouldn’t say I’m nervous about it, but it adds an extra specialness to the relationship I’m about to have with them as their teacher.
Dave Meyers: These are just a few of the different experiences teachers have on the first day of school. But it’s clear, that no matter how many years they’ve been teaching, or what grade level or subject matter—those jitters never completely go away. Nor does the passion for teaching.
Dave Meyers: For Ed Tech Times — I’m Dave Meyers.
Listen to the rest of the Teacher Voice podcast series:
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.