first day

Stewie, You Suck

Stewie, You Suck

Technically, most of America had their first real day of school, so in Internet years, I missed the first fleet of boats. NYC will have students in tomorrow morning, many rested from an extended break, others restless and yearning to see their friends who they may not have seen all summer. For teachers and administrators here, many teachers only started getting ready today, and with some of us wearing many hats, we haven’t had the time to really look at the important things in life, like classroom decor.

In other words, my classroom’s a mess.

Thus, here are 5 reasons why opening day sucks:

1. Summer? What’s That?

Summer vacation almost seems too good to be true mid-July … then it really is too good to be true when you step into school. I can go from the sunny, blue skies of Ocho Rios, Jamaica to the tepid temperatures of  my school in NYC. You can’t get a sunburn from the inside of a no-window auditorium now can you?

2. What Does First Day Look Like Again?

Even those of us who have been doing it for 20+ years tell me that they completely forget what first day looks like, because that was about 365 days ago. It’s like having a year-long break from that very job.

3. Nightowls Become Daydreamers

For those that know me personally, they know I stay up till all hours of the night creating and talking. Now that my mandated bedtime shifts from 1am to 10pm, I don’t always get to come up with the madness that only comes with the clock striking 12.

4. Exit Jose, Enter Mr. Vilson

It usually takes me anywhere from 5-8 days to regain my modus operandi. I need to whittle that down to maybe a day or two. It’s an exhausting process.

5. If You Mess Up, You Really Can’t Get That First Day Back

I try my best to make that first day flawless and uninterrupted. It’s important for things like rigor, instruction, and self-importance that everything go exactly as I say … or else.

… and that leads me to 5 reasons why it rocks:

1. Meet The Students … All Over Again

If you really love the job, you get a little nervous, but you really just want to jump in and do the best job possible. Except if you suck as a teacher. Then, I don’t know what to tell you.

2. Every Day Actually Means Something

There are very few jobs that pretend to have structure like teaching does. One can never predict what may or may not happen at any given point in the school building. That could easily fall into the last category, but I like a little spike in my orange juice.

3. It Reminds You Of Your Humanity

We can plan every little minute of that first day, but we know something’s going to happen. Once we realize that our plans CAN fail, it becomes easier to decompress and just let the day ride.

4. You Never Have To Do It Again

Day #2 – 180+ are a bit more flexible than that first day. They also tend to be the days we need to exert more consistency and make our students believe what we said on the first day. (:: points at self::)

5. There’s Always Next Year

Even if I can’t remember what I did first day of school last year, I know I’ll have another opportunity, and another one, and another one …

Jose Mr. Vilson, who really just postponed his website to do 3 other ones …

{ 1 comment }

spidey3.jpgBefore I begin, let me just say that when people make absurd comments, it doesn’t bother me much. It’s a gut-check and it keeps me humble, but I reserve the comment to come back with the flame and the fire. Free speech allows for someone to make an absurd comment to me, but it also allows me to slap ‘em right back.

Psh …

Anyways, I almost literally did my first day in my sleep. I was every bit as enthusiastic as Ron Clark mentions in the Excellent 11, which I’m reading now and will review once I finish it. Last night, after writing my blog about the Fellows program, I decided it was time to recalibrate my sleeping clock and try to get some shut-eye at 10pm. Indeed I was in bed by then, but I really went to sleep at 2am, and for the 4 hours or so of mindless tossing and turning, I went through a process of oscillating positive and negative thoughts.

Even right now, I don’t necessarily know how apt I am for teaching 6th graders. They’re munchkins and still 1/2-people. Yet it’s a lot of pressure since the 6th grade is their last hurrah of childhood. Today, though, I doubt anyone could tell the difference. I dressed professionally: white-collared shirt, blue tie, black pants, and brown shoes. Needless to say, I was probably the sharpest looking in the building, and most teachers preferred the open collared look.

More importantly though, my demeanor was exactly what I wanted to project. I had a sense of humor, but there was no time for games. Everything I spoke about was very necessary to hear, and thus, I needed everyone’s undivided attention … and for the first time in my teaching career, I got a good 95% of it.

My first day script included some of the following:

- I started off the party with a short introduction of myself. Very short. And that’s all I needed.
- I proceeded to discuss my 3 principles: 1) Be the change you want to see in the world, 2) Freedom is not free. 3) Walk on water.

I thought of the first two for a while, but the third came to me on the A-train this morning, and it was so true to me. Even with the diverse inspirations that I got the principles from (Gandhi for the first and Jay-Z for the third), the kids definitely understood it and took to it. I’m having them memorize and learn the principles for tomorrow. That might be against Bloom’s Taxonomy, but f*** it. Charge it to the game.

- Asked them “What does math mean to you?” I found it interesting because I actually had the kids read aloud their answers, and then ask others about what the person just said. It was thoroughly successful and a change from my first two years of teaching, when I didn’t necessarily have a great beginning activity for them to start out with. I asked other members of the class to elaborate on what the reader of the moment was saying.

- Plus, even on the first day, my classroom is looking much better than it did last year at this time. I still have a ways to go, but that’s got a lot to do with the unavailability for printers and such.

Of course there were a couple of snags here and there, but for the most part, it was much more successful and organized. Tomorrow, I call parents. Tonight, though, I sleep.

Good night. I’ll be around the blogosphere to see what’s up with you all soon …



“Stand and Deliver”I’ve been reading a few books here and there about education, from The First Days of School by Harry K. and Rosemary T. Wong to the previously mentioned The Reluctant Disciplinarian by Gary Rubenstein. A common theme (that even this article seems to justify) is that there’s a sort of acting that goes on with the role of a teacher. I previously discussed this as being in one’s avatar state, vis-a-vis Avatar the Last Airbender. Edward James Olmos also made mention in a speech I heard a few years ago, stating that “acting is the art of being.” It’s never been more apparent lately that teachers are truly method actors who’ve done extensive research.

And by acting, I mean, we bring elements of what a teacher should look like, but adjust it to accommodate our true personalities. For instance, I hate having to ask my teachers if I can use the bathroom, but it’s a good rule for younger kids because it teaches them discipline. That’s the contrast between the acting me and the real me. Yet, as a teacher, I use slang every so often to help kids better understand the material I’m teaching. That’s a comparison.

Many of the blogs I’ve read here in the blogosphere have only proven just how stressful and worn out teachers are from their professions, having a (albeit highly sensitive) outlook on their performance as a reflection of the kids’ success. While it’s great to have high expectations and follow through with great performance, it’s also important to understand that too much of anything isn’t good. For instance, many teachers often jump into their roles as teachers too deeply (present writer included), but it usually means that the teacher will someday act out in frustration when their acting becomes too much of their person, and hence makes them vulnerable to kids’ shortcomings and shifting personalities.

This becomes even more evident in the extracurriculars that many of the student personnel take on. Some of us do mild things, like redesign our houses, go fish with our (biological) kids, or even :: gasp:: teach summer schools. Others of us, though, and especially the younger generation, tend to drink heavily, take on extreme sports, or go off to remote parts of the world. The latter, some safe and some not as much, is an indication that teaching isn’t this pretty ready-made profession outliers make it out to be. To the contrary, the sense of personal risk and the responsibility for a whole generation of kids often takes a toll on the person underneath the professional attire.

Yet, on the first day of school, I realized the only thing I got going for me besides my boyish charms and way with words is my teacher look.  With no kids around and the chance to just get acquainted with my room, I saw how my persona / performance on the stage would really have to capture the audience this year, a crew of 6th graders on the precipice of adolescence and hanging on to a branch of childhood. My sincerity in my acting I hope stands in contrast to people who act like they care but don’t.

Underneath that self-assured and undeniable exterior most of the good teachers wear, there’s this vulnerable skin, much like the audiences we perform for 180 or so days does …

jose, who’s less than 1/2way done with his classroom setup