The First Day of School Jitters

The first day of school jitters…I remember them well from being a kid. I would agonize over what outfit to wear, which school supplies to bring, and how I would get to school. I would be sleepless the night before over the excitement and anxiety of seeing people on that first day that I had gone months without seeing over the summer. I remember when the two months of summer break felt like an eternity. Today it feels like the blink of an eye–fleeting, ephemeral, passing–barely a pause in the norm of the daily grind.

Being an educator, I still get that pre-first day of school energy. It builds in me all of August. As soon as I flip my calendar and I see the word August, I feel a tightening in my chest. It is palpable now as I write this post. This feeling of nervous and excited energy grows in me like a quiet storm as each day of this month passes.

For those of you who are new to teaching and who are stressing over Day 1 in your largely undeveloped classroom and about your largely underdeveloped teacher persona, don’t worry. I have some words of wisdom for you: If anything can go wrong, it will, BUT (and the BUT is important here), you will survive, you will show up for Day 2, and your Year 1 learning curve will begin. After Day 1 you will be stronger and better prepared for Day 2. And after Year 1, as we say in Brooklyn, fuhggedaboutit! You’ll be solid. But every day of Year 1 will teach you something, and that learning will be exhausting.

I wish I could recall for you my first day in the classroom. I spent hours setting up a long unused Home Economics room (yes, it was a kitchen, full of sinks, which was a classroom management nightmare for a first year teacher!) with posters bought from the teacher store in downtown Brooklyn and handmade decorations that screamed slogans in all caps like “READING IS POWER!” around the room. I took the bus to Bushwick, Brooklyn and arrived as the sun rose and as the prostitutes headed in for the day. I passed many of them and other sketchy individuals as I hoofed up Wilson Avenue to my middle school, the now defunct IS 111. I dodged dog poop, crack vials, needles, and trash to get to the little oasis of my classroom.

As enthusiastic and naive as I was, I was mortified. Why? Because I had contracted ringworm on the tip of my nose. Yes, you read that correctly, ringworm on the tip of my nose. What? How is that possible? Well, let me explain.

This was at a point in my life when I did a lot of yoga. I went to Crunch, in Manhattan, almost daily to workout/do yoga and I used their mats because I didn’t want to schlep my mat around all day. This was also at a point in my life when I could touch my face to the mat in a forward wide-legged fold. So there I was, yoga-ing like mad in preparation for the stress of the school year and my new career as a teacher, limber with my face on a mat used my how many New Yorkers, in the summer, wearing thin sandals so that their feet literally rubbed the streets of filthy New York City and then transferred those germs to the yoga mat? See how easily you can get ringworm on the tip of your nose given the right circumstances?

At first I thought it was a huge zit, but it wasn’t behaving like a zit, and having had my share of acne in my life I knew how a pimple looked, felt, and acted. What was it? Instead of getting smaller, it started getting larger until it encircled the entire tip of my nose. Yes, I was a veritable Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Freaking out, I went to a walk-in clinic in Fort Greene (which wasn’t the yuppie haven it is now, it was very very sketchy) where a kind doctor from the Caribbean diagnosed me with ringworm. I got some ointment, but the first day of school was the next day and there was no time for said ointment to work. I went to the drugstore and bought every form of cover-up makeup that existed, but it just made it look worse–like painting a red light with a watery beige color–so I gave up. I went in that first day with a red, glowing tip of my nose. My first day teaching. Hi, I’m your teacher! Please ignore my red nose.

And, just to make the circumstances more ridiculous, at the time Bushwick had a very high HIV/AIDS population and I had what looked to be a huge lesion on my nose. My friends comforted me by saying that I’d fit in with the students and the community, who indeed did know many with or who had died of HIV/AIDS, but as you can imagine, that was not that comforting.

All this said, I don’t remember much of that first day. Minus the horror of my red, infected nose, my classes of Eight Plus students (Eighth graders who had failed Eighth grade multiple times, who ranged in age from 15-17 years old) didn’t notice or comment on it. The day went smoothly, and the rest of the semester was total chaos in both good and bad ways. But even though I was terrified and mortified by my ringworm nose, I got through that day, with my nose burning bright, and I got through that semester, and then year, albeit barely. And I went on to teach ten more years in public schools, each year loving it.

And regardless of the circumstances that surround your Day 1, you will too.

Godspeed for all of your starting school in August, and for those of you who don’t start until after Labor Day, may your jitters be kept at bay.

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