It’s 8:45am on Monday, the first of three days of professional development before students arrive. I am sitting in the auditorium surrounded by hundreds of people, as the entire district has descended upon the high school for our initial meeting. Somehow, I have managed to sit one row and four seats away from my sister, a kindergarten teacher in one of the elementary schools. I take this as a good sign: this has never happened before, despite the fact that we have worked in the same district for close to ten years and have attempted to meet up before the assembly each and every time.
Convocation is a welcoming. It is a new beginning, a jumping point, the starting line. I have been teaching since 1999, so this is not my first rodeo. However, I am starting this year with a new department chair, and two new classes: AP Literature and 9th grade Advanced College Prep English. Both terrify me. I am reminded of the dog in the meme, surrounded by fire, a cup of coffee on the table, stating everything is fine.
Over the summer, I read a number of books on the AP Lit curriculum. They were beautiful, though-provoking, and dense. I worry that I may have missed some of the subtleties and nuances of the text on my first read, that I will not offer the students as rich an experience as the veteran, master teacher who taught this class before me. I worry that I will not assign enough, that I will push them too little, that they will become bored easily. I also worry that in trying to make the class truly Advanced Placement, that I will ask too much of seniors who are already loaded with rigorous classes and extracurriculars.
I have taught 9th grade Honors English for the better part of the last decade. I am used to the pace, the students, the parents, the books. This year, I worry that I will expect too much of the ACP kids, that I will assign too much reading, demand too much writing, give them more than they can handle. I am also afraid that, because of this worry, I will give them too little by underestimating their ability and motivation. It’s a perfect catch 22 of anxiety.
At the same time that my back-to-school nightmares center around my planning and expectations, I am excited to start this new chapter. As much as the beginning of the year is full of unknowns, it is also full of possibilities:
- Because of my new schedule, I have the opportunity to talk to students about books that I have not previously taught before.
- Independent reading is now a curricular requirement in 9th grade, and I can’t wait to put books in the hands of my students. I am excited that all freshmen will now have access to the program that the THS Reading Revolution started to implement four years ago.
- New curriculum has expanded the diversity of texts so students will have a better balance of mirrors and windows.
- I find myself having meaningful conversations with colleagues as we help each other plan and pass on best practices and lesson ideas.
Even though there are so many “firsts” on this list, in the background of it all is the “tried and true” that I know I can lean on. As I struggled with AP books, two of my colleagues responded to texts over the summer, helping me navigate. When I had questions about what a comfortable pacing chart would look like for 9th grade, two more colleagues took the time to walk me through their experiences and offer advice. When I wanted to begin the year with a certain novel but was short five texts, colleagues lent me their personal copies to use with students so that I would have enough for my classes. I realized that while I was staring down all of the changes, I forgot for a minute that the constants remain. The group of teachers who have worked with me to solve problems, design instruction, take risks, and foster student growth hasn’t gone anywhere. They doused the flames and made sure that my cup of joe was full. I feel like my students would say of this: #squadgoals met.
So, as unnerving as the first few days can be — sneaking classroom set-up time in between the whirlwind of meetings, second guessing planning and instruction, organizing my classroom library — my butterflies are ones of anticipation and excitement, because I am not alone. I am thankful for the strong network of people who are helping to ensure that these new beginnings are not overwhelming, and that I don’t need to purchase a fire extinguisher and buy stock in Starbucks.
If anyone wants my unsolicited advice at this point in time, it would be to take a deep breath, believe in yourself, and lean on your squad. This, is fine.