Sure, kid, just walk across that street. I know. You just had your last “half” day, and it’s summer! For me, it’s a milestone. I survived my first year of not teaching in what we now colorfully call a “bricks and mortar school.” (B & Ms, seriously?) It’s funny, maybe ironic that I survived a first day of teaching long ago, and I remember being in tears until my mentor brought me some flowers and a cookie. Oh, I still cried for a few days, but no one, and I mean no one can really prepare you for teaching that first day. Not the day you student taught. It doesn’t count because you aren’t really in charge of that class by yourself.
I can remember standing at the front of a huge classroom at the community college. I was teaching English Comp, and I had everything planned out for the 3-hour night class. I got there early to gather my roster and have enough time to write some items on the boards. No problem.
Then the students began trickling in, looking for that perfect seat. Most did not know each other, but they shared the commaraderie of being in the same class. (Oh god! English!) I smiled and asked the early students who they were and if they wanted to take an advance peek at the syllabus. Cool little teacher. They didn’t know it was my first time. I thought I had a huge red mark on my face that said, “Rookie! Rookie!
Then I turned to jot down something else on the white board, and when I turned the classroom was full. Deep breath. Deep breath. The only thing I was grateful for was that I was 35 not 25. I looked like such a youngster in my twenties…well. It wouldn’t matter.
Everyone was chattering back and forth, and I suddenly realized there were no bells. I had to get them quiet and start. Now I am not an imposing person, so in height and not in demeanor. (The demeanor would come many years later.) I think I cleared my throat, but no one hear it, so finally I said forcefully, “Okay guys, let’s get started.” The first two rows heard me and looked up, but there were four gentlemen in the back playing what I call high school, ignoring me. I strained a smile and stepped towards the back. I stood near the least threatening-looking student and said, “Can we get started with class now?”
First mistake. Do not ask them. Tell them.
The boy with nothing on his desk, not even a notebook or pencil, looked up at me.
“What is this high school? We can’t even talk? Duh.” He turned back to his buddy and continued what must have been an extremely important conversation about last night’s party. But the first prickles of irritation showed through my eyes.
I looked down at my class roster. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“What now?” party boy said. (By this time, some of the others in the class were getting impatient. I think I heard “C’mon, man!”) I could feel the blood rushing into my ears, but I look this student right in the eye and said, “Please leave the classroom. You are disrupting others who want to get started. When you are ready to go to college, come back in.” I was terrified at my words, and I hoped it didn’t show.
I never took my eyes off him as he slowly scooted his seat back, got up, and left the room. Then I walked back to the front of the class and began class.