At the beginning of every school year, I always have the same mixed feelings of fear and vulnerability, like I need to relearn how to be a teacher again. It’s like the summer weeks have completely erased my teaching personality to replace it with a more laid-back persona, a guy wearing shorts and flip-flops who is clearly unable to perform even the most basic tasks of second language teaching. Just thinking of standing in front of a classroom send chills down my spine. Will I remember how to do it again?…
The mid-August crisis always takes me back a few years. It was my first teaching job: Louisiana was the place, and 2005 was the year. I was hired by Codofil (the Council for Development of French in Louisiana) to teach French in a public Primary School in the Lafourche Parish, a few miles west of New Orleans. I was twenty seven years old, and I had no idea how to prepare myself for the task! Just like now.
As in many times in my life, a book came to my rescue. The title was “The First Days of School” by Harry and Rosemary Wong. It was given to me for free by the Codofil and I remember not thinking much about it when I first laid eyes on its cover and browsed its first pages. Seeing the teachers in the pictures wearing sweatshirts proclaiming “I don’t teach, I inspired” made me feel a little bit uneasy. I didn’t own such a shirt. I thought I was cool. Then the school year started.
The gap between my flip-flip persona and the teacher I was supposed to be on day one was to big. Standing in front of my students for the first time, in the heat of the Louisiana subtropical summer, I realised one thing: I need to be prepared. Quick.
I came back home that evening, took off my flip-flops and grabbed the book. Beyond the illustrations and the pictures that I thought were not cool enough for me, I discovered a solid reflexion on how to be ready for these dreaded first days of school. Harry Wong goes straight to the point and uses only practicalities : how to prepare your classroom, how to introduce yourself, how to sit your students, how to present your lesson, how to keep the kids engaged and happy… As I was reading, I knew I found something of value. My stress level went down almost immediately. I was ready to teach.
Years later, the same familiar feeling comes back to me. Counting the remaining days of summer on the calendar in my flip-flops, I’m wondering if I’ll be able to pull it off again, to switch back in time for the beginning of the school year. A strong sense of structure always have helped me in these first few days, but there is more to it: meeting my new students is great, and reconnecting with the old ones certainly makes it easier!
The more I think about it, the more I think it’ll be alright.
And, who knows, maybe this year I won’t have to rush to the attic to find “The First Days of School” in my flip-flops…