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The First Day

Many nervous children are waking up early this morning, catching a big yellow bus to go to a new classroom or to a new school. My own granddaughters are both facing going into new schools today, and my heart goes out to them. I know that they’ll have lots of help and that today will be fine, but I also understand their nerves.

My heart also goes out to those brand-new teachers who are literally beginning the rest of their lives. No matter how much they cut, pasted, and stapled to get their new classrooms ready, regardless of the pristine organization and meticulous preparations, they will face their very first class, the 30 pairs of shining, nervous eyes staring at them for guidance. That’s so scary and exciting, a day in retrospect that I’ll remember the rest of my life.

As a shy newbie to the classroom as well as to the district, my fear started even earlier. I'll never how I felt knowing I had to go to my very first opening day as a sparkling new teacher. Not just fear, but middle-of-the-night, can't-sleep fear. Not knowing a soul except my kind principal in the new county we had just moved to, not being the superintendent 's choice (a lawyer's son was his favorite), not even really sure where the meeting was to be held or what we would do there, I was plagued by a zillion doubts and worries.

Would I find someone to sit with? Would anyone speak to me? All of those fears seemed so trite, and I knew they were hiding the true fear that I couldn't even give a name to, that fear that I wouldn't be the teacher I had always wanted to be, that I wouldn't know enough, that I couldn't keep a group of 7th graders happy and quiet and learning.

Before you break into tears at the plight of a shy new teacher, I want you to know that two things happened to calm those night sweats. Two blessed teachers came to the rescue and I'll forever be grateful.

One was a special visit by my brother and sister-in-law, both wonderful teachers who sensed my unspoken need and drove 50 miles to help alleviate my anxiety. Both spent the whole day before opening day with me, answering questions about everything from strategies to discipline. They shared lesson ideas, gave me hints for keeping a grade book, in short, gave me the confidence to think that maybe, just maybe, those kids would be okay under my care.

The second special teacher was a stranger who lived just down the street. In an act of pure kindness, she called me the night before the dreaded opening day, asking me a simple question that changed everything. "Would you like to drive with me to the district meeting?" she asked. The sensitivity of that simple invitation and the relief I felt that I wouldn't have to go into that huge meeting alone still has power over me today -- two decades later.

As we begin a new year, I want to wish for all our friends and fellow teachers a wonderful year of the laughs, joys, and special moments in the classroom. Along with my wishes, however, comes one simple request: find that brand new student who’s trying to find his or her way. Give them a smile, a “Welcome to our school.” Sit down by them and start a conversation. Be kind.

Or, if you’re on the other end of the spectrum, find that shy brand new teacher, seek him or her out and throw in a few words of encouragement, answer a few questions, share a successful strategy. Invite him or her in, whether it's an invitation to sit with you at lunch or drive with you to a meeting. You remember that scary first year, don't you? Help someone else through it with a few kind words and thoughtful actions. It might make an impression that will last -- for 40 years.

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