I Believe in the First Day of School
I believe in the first day of school. I am a second year teacher writing this essay the night before the last day of school.
I teach at a New York City public high school with a 50 percent graduation rate. Many of the kids who go to the school where I teach get lost before they can find their way to the stage they are scheduled to walk across in four years. Some get caught up in gangs or go to jail. Some get caught up in larger life matters like becoming parents or having to work too many hours at night to get up early in the morning. Some start cutting or simply get bored or hopeless. Some decide the school year is too long. The work is too much, too difficult. Some believe that the teachers and administrators don’t care one wit about them.
But, every kid has hope on the first day of school.
For two years, on the first day of school, I have asked students to write about what they want to accomplish, what challenges they think they will face, and what they expect from a new year in school. Invariably, on the first day of school, every child writes about wanting to do his or her best. On the first day of school, even a student who ended the previous year with zero credits will write directly about wanting to concentrate on school this year, improve bad habits, do all his work, act the way he knows will lead him to success.
Every student I’ve ever had believes in the first day of school.
I think it’s a kind of contract. They don’t know me on the first day of school. I’m just some lady. I’m just some English teacher. Standing in front of them, I carry the weight of every teacher who has failed them before, but I also carry the promise of teaching as a caring and above all, faithful profession. On the first day of school, we agree to believe in one another.
On the first day of school, they don’t know that, though I try and though I always care, I won’t always know how to assuage their anger. I will sometimes give assignments that are too confusing. I won’t always call home when they cut class.
I will sometimes forget who they were on the first day of school.
But, I believe, there is hope for me and for them. As long as I continue to believe in the first day of school, the boy I saw in the cafeteria today, the boy who hasn’t been to my class in weeks, will still somehow, some day find his way to the stage – maybe through summer school or through evening classes to make up credits.
Maybe next year will be the year for him. Next year, on the first day of school, I will still believe.
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