I remember my first day of teaching in New Haven 33 years ago, when my classroom wasn’t ready and I was left to teach in an auditorium alongside three other classes of students and their teachers. My seventh graders sat in the long rows of theater seating while I stood a couple of rows in front of them trying to keep their attention from drifting to the other groups of students scattered around the auditorium. I was grateful for my colleagues who gave me the confidence I needed to adjust to this unique start to my career.
I remember my first day of teaching in Bolivia in 1990. The room had just been converted from the old PE equipment shed to a classroom adjacent to the gym. There was torrential tropical rain that day, and I could barely hear my own voice as I tried to scream above the echoes of drops hitting the corrugated roof. I had never experienced such an intense and deafening downpour, but to my students this was nothing new. When waterfalls of rain started pouring down the walls inside of the classroom, I rushed the class to the gym and taught in the bleachers. I was grateful for the calmness of my students and the custodians who came to my aide and drained the flooded classroom.
On another first day of school in Pawcatuck, Connecticut, all was going well. The skies were clear, I had a real classroom with plenty of supplies, and I was excited to meet my new students. While reading a story out loud during a morning class, I was struck by a sudden bout of dizziness. With just a few minutes left in the period, I sat on a stool in front of the class, held on with one hand, and finished the class. As students exited the room, I grabbed the stool with both hands while smiling and answering questions, grateful that I had a free period coming up. By the time I made it to the bathroom, I could hardly walk straight and immediately began to throw up. The nurse sent me home where I stayed in bed and vomited the rest of the day. I would miss the first three days of school that year, diagnosed with some unknown virus, but my colleagues checked in on me and took care of my class.
Teaching During Pandemics
I’ve had some interesting first days of school over the years, but what could prepare me for 2020? Face masks, shields, hybrid learning, distance learning, mask breaks, and social distancing are just a few of the obvious challenges I will encounter this year. One of my biggest worries is being effective at teaching two groups of students simultaneously, one online and one in front of me, socially-distanced. How do I keep everyone engaged?
The harder part of going back to school this year, however, is knowing that we are all dealing with more invisible signs of the times we are in. We are in the midst of at least three pandemics. Besides COVID-19, the economic crisis has greatly affected many of my students and their families. And our country has become more aware of the centuries-long pandemic of racism since the killing of George Floyd in May. Some students are suffering the traumatic effects of all three pandemics. How can I make geography relevant when students are worried about whether or not their family can pay the rent or if it’s safe to walk outside?
The students that left school on March 13 will return in the midst of these pandemics having been impacted by them in ways that they might not even understand. This year will be my most challenging year, not because I have to wear a mask or teach via Zoom, but because we are all experiencing trauma from these events.
The Power of Hope
There are so many things to worry about during these times, but there are also so many reasons for hope.
The pandemics have given me opportunities to learn from and connect with educators across the country through webinars, classes, and book clubs. We share successes and failures as we teach during these crises. I have folders on my Google Drive full of great new lessons and resources specific to these times. Our struggles now will make us more effective teachers in the future.
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.”Nelson Mandela
As in the past first-day challenges, I also have hope because I know my colleagues and I will support each other. The custodians who are keeping the building safe, the cafeteria staff who serve kindness and encouragement along with each meal, the paraprofessionals who often work multiple jobs but still come in each day with a smile, the bus drivers, teachers, administrators, mental health staff – we will all do our best for the students and each other. We will meet our students with mask-covered smiles and work together as we face the unknown while dealing with the trauma of the past.
Tomorrow will be my 34th first day of school as a teacher, and I am confident that my students will help me deal with the trauma of these times just as I will try to help them. The energy and enthusiasm of middle school students is my greatest source of hope. I’m scared and anxious, but I cannot wait to get back in the classroom!
September 7, 2020 at 08:11
Such a good reflection Tim! I wish you a wonderful first day.
September 7, 2020 at 19:43
September 7, 2020 at 08:21
Love your stories! Let’s hope this first day goes as smoothly as possible!
September 7, 2020 at 19:44
It will certainly give us more stories to tell.
September 7, 2020 at 08:47
You are surrounded by an amazing team that will rise again to the occasion. And Iam sure the kids can’t wait to see you and can’t wait to learn from you. You will have another amazing first day which will lead to an amazing year
September 7, 2020 at 19:44
Thanks, Dan! We definitely are surrounded by an amazing team.
September 7, 2020 at 08:49
As always, thought-provoking and written perfectly!
September 7, 2020 at 19:45
Looking forward to seeing you, Paula.
September 7, 2020 at 08:53
I am so happy for the 3rd year in a row to work with you. Your classroom is an amazing environment and there’s no doubt in my mind that this year will be any different. I have learned a great deal from you in the past 2 years and can’t wait to see what year 3 brings. Thanks for this blog post to get in the proper mindset to welcome the students back tomorrow.
September 7, 2020 at 19:49
Thanks so much, Kelley! I’m very glad to be working with you again. I’ve learned a lot from you, also!
September 7, 2020 at 08:54
That was wonderful and gave me a bit of hope which was very needed.
September 7, 2020 at 19:50
Thanks, Elaine! We’ll get through this.
September 7, 2020 at 09:00
I with you, Tim… (well, maybe not with 34 first days of school ) ! And snail-mail coming your way one of these days ♥️ Good luck, my friend.
September 7, 2020 at 19:54
Great to hear from you, Amanda, whether virtually or snail mail. Have a great start to your year! 🙂
September 7, 2020 at 09:03
I hope you have a good year, Tim! Your positive attitude will be a force of strength for you and for your students!
September 7, 2020 at 19:56
Thanks, Laurie. Nice to hear from you. I hope you’re enjoying a school-free September!
September 7, 2020 at 09:05
Wow Tim, it has been 33 years😬. You have always had amazing insight combined with positive outlook and realism. What a remarkable combination. You bring a calm and reassuring atmosphere to those around you. You will be great!
September 7, 2020 at 20:03
Thank you, Alexa! Yes, it’s been a while since SCSU. I appreciate your support and hope you’re enjoying yourself.
September 7, 2020 at 09:15
I have always loved the stories you tell. We have shared so many laughs over your stories at lunch with PMS Team 7. Keep them going. They are uplifting and help to lighten the mood. I’m looking forward to being on another great Team 7 with you this year.
September 7, 2020 at 20:20
Thanks, Sue! I do remember those lunches – Cindy got a lot of stories out of me. See you soon!
September 7, 2020 at 09:20
Great post Tim. I loved your longevity as a teacher ; teaching is the future!!!
September 7, 2020 at 20:21
Thanks, Eric, and thanks for posting this on your blog!
September 7, 2020 at 09:42
I loved hearing your first day stories. I’ll have to share one of mine with you. Thanks for the hope!
September 7, 2020 at 20:22
Thanks, Noreen! I’m waiting anxiously to hear your story.
September 7, 2020 at 10:18
Thanks for your ever-inspiring post! I hope you and your students have an awesome ~ certainly MEMORABLE ~ year!
September 7, 2020 at 20:23
We won’t forget this, that’s for sure. Thanks, Pam, and enjoy your September!
September 7, 2020 at 10:20
Loved this Tim! Good luck on your first day!
September 7, 2020 at 20:24
Thank you, Jen. It’s going to be an adventure.
September 7, 2020 at 10:56
Oh Tim! Thank you for taking me on another beautiful journey. I, too, will be starting my 34th year in our district. Thank you for the inspiration…..See you tomorrow!
September 7, 2020 at 20:32
See you soon, Lori! Thanks!
September 7, 2020 at 11:04
Thanks for sharing your first day stories with us. It definitely made me reflect on couple of my first days teaching. It brought smiles to me. I even saw a former student yesterday who was in my very first class. She then reached out later and asked if we could go to dinner. Teaching has so many endless possibilities. You definitely reminded me of that again.
September 7, 2020 at 20:36
Glad to hear of your encounter with your student, Stacie. It’s always nice when that happens. Thanks for the comment. See you soon!
September 7, 2020 at 21:46
Thanks for this, Tim! I really enjoyed reading it. Best of luck-I know you’ll do great. I am so glad Mason is in your class this year! 🙂
September 10, 2020 at 21:54
Thanks for the comment, Heather. So nice to finally see Mason in person today! Hope you’re having a good first week.
September 8, 2020 at 10:21
Always love hearing a good story. Thank you for sharing. Will be praying for you , all teachers and students during these life changing times.
September 10, 2020 at 21:55
Thank you for your prayers, Jean. So far things are going well.
September 8, 2020 at 17:37
Your students are in excellent hands!
Have a great school year!
September 10, 2020 at 21:55
Thank you, Gail! Great to hear from you.
September 10, 2020 at 21:13
Love the quote by Mandela…it seems to sum up my life…Rising every time we fail…
Practicing my own teaching ..K….
2nd…and…4th grade in my own kitchen. In between making cornbread and healthy salads on a humid, rainy day…So it’s raccoon headbands, stratus clouds and rounding numbers to the hundreds simultaneously and then I get to reminiscence my 38, first days – so eloquently portrayed by you…
Thank you, friend!
September 10, 2020 at 22:01
You will never stop teaching; your grandkids are learning so much from you, as always. I think you and Eric should open a school.
September 13, 2020 at 19:16
There are silver linings to be discovered in this chaos and I have no doubt you will find them.
Have a wonderful up school year !
September 17, 2020 at 20:09
October 3, 2020 at 08:04
I am just catching up on my emails. God Bless you and all the teachers out there who are challenged on a daily basis as you try to meet the needs of all your students. You are true heroes in my book! Really enjoyed reading your accounts on past 1st days of school… and the pics are priceless!! Stay well, my friend!
October 4, 2020 at 21:05
Hi Nisi! It has been challenging, but things are going quite well so far. Somehow masks have become normal in the classroom and teaching two groups at once is the new reality. I wish we could provide more in-person days – the kids want to be in school. Great to hear from you!