Monday morning, I woke up giddy. Professional development was starting and that meant the structure of my day was decided for me. Even though I adore my summer, I have always loved the start of the school year- a fresh beginning, another chance to grow.
I made my coffee, ate my breakfast, and made my way out the door. I was greeted by the familiar school’s neighborhood, the apartments and broken down duplexes. The cracked sidewalks and out of date homes. It was then my eyes laid upon a distraught man accompanied by another man offering aide, dazed, swaying, high. I looked across the street, and I saw three of my former students, engrossed in a phone, not even phased- like this was something they had seen before. I was grateful in that moment that they weren’t witnessing the episode, but it then hit me, as it does every year, that the summer break that my students had was not necessarily as joyful as mine. That my students may want the structure of the day just as badly as me, but for possibly different reasons.
Starting a school year at a Title 1 school comes with challenges that are not necessarily well- known. Challenges that are en-laced with hope, fear, and longing for the well-being of the students that walk through our doors on the first day of school. We are constantly hoping for the right resources to be prepared, and for the best support possible to serve our kiddos best.
We hope, we hope, we hope.
We hope for time in our classroom to make it as welcoming as possible-especially for the students that didn’t feel necessarily welcomed at home for the summer months. This means we are spending our own money to get the perfect decorations, the right lamps, pillows, granola bars, anything to make our students feel comfortable and willing to learn.
We spend money on school supplies, ask neighbors if they have backpacks to donate, are relieved when a school supply on our Amazon wishlist is fulfilled. Some of our students can´t afford a backpack, sometimes, they need us to hold them after class and slip them those pencils for the school year so they won’t have consequences elsewhere. So, notoriously, year after year, teachers will come in with bags of supplies, ready to give away without batting an eye, because they want success for their students.
We are hoping for time to plan for the first few weeks of school, considering it is the most crucial time to break the emotional barriers in our classroom. Our hardest kids have the biggest walls built around them, guarding their heart, their mind, afraid of more pain, more distrust from whatever they have seen at their young age. We hope for that time to make them see that we are trustworthy, here for them, willing to help. It will typically take months, but the intention behind those first week’s lessons are so important. We will be the constant they never get to witness.
We pray for so many of our new teachers. We hope for a new addition to our family and hope that they don’t have to bear the weight of the world on their shoulder alone. We will take them under our wing and allow them to feel welcomed, supported and loved, even on their most difficult days.
We take time to attend our professional development- which comes with various incentives, seminars, and curriculum changes due to our continuously changing test content. We fight and fight every year for the best discipline approach, best pedagogy, best way to get to our kids to compete with other districts academically when for some of our students, survival is their only thought.
We hope we see our class library grow- scrounging Good Wills and Half Price Books for the best series, the best reading trends. Some of our students have never been read to except for inside a classroom. We want them to not flinch at the sight of a book but instead have a flicker of excitement in their eye- to see that being enveloped in a story is the best thing that could happen, an escape, no matter what the reading level.
We will spend days at discipline trainings. Our parents are sometimes absent due to providing for their kids, so we rarely can rely on the consistency at home. We will inevitably see the pain in some of our student’s eyes when they take a swing at their best friend in the hallway- not anger, not aggression- displaced pain, defeat, sorrow. We try to fix the problem year after year, attempting to provide relationships, consistency, a loving environment, we will try everything to make them feel safe.
We will have anxiety dreams about having an out of control class or not having the right assignment the first week. We will wake up in a damp t-shirt, and laugh about them with our coworkers later, but they will continue to happen because we want everything to be perfect for our future classes.
Lastly, we hope for understanding colleagues, because there will be days that are not great. There will be days that we want to quit on your students for whatever reason. However, having your school family support you on those days is everything. Having support from your administration is everything, and even on the worst days, there is magic in a coherent staff.
Our job is difficult, and our hearts are tethered with and mended again and again because the students walking through your door on the first day? They came to see you. They came to see your inviting classroom, your growing library, supplies and to grow more than they thought possible. They will be embraced by your smile, and no matter what happened in the last couple of months, they know they are home due to your preparation- and that? That and their unbound progress throughout the year emotionally and academically- that makes it worth it.
They make it worth it every single year.