I’ve been attending the first day of school either as a student or a teacher for well over half of my life (at 41 that’s a lot of first days of school), yet I still get nightmares about them.

They always follow the same sort of pattern:  I enter my classroom completely unprepared without a single lesson plan written or syllabus copied.  Sometimes the administration has moved me to a different classroom without telling me, another teacher has absconded with all my stuff, and my new class is full of boxes and stacked desks.

I even dream of natural disasters like lightning or floods hitting, and I have to rescue a whole group of kids I don’t know.  In every scenario, I have absolutely no control over anything; I flounder, panicked, trying to survive, as I sometimes do in my actual classroom.

I had another first day of school this past Monday, and in some ways, the nightmares aren’t so far off.  I have classes of up to 33 teenagers and see well over 150 total students.

I have students who read at a fifth grade level sitting next to students who read at a college level; kids who read classics for fun next to fifteen year-olds who have never completed a single novel; students who have traveled the world next to students who have never left this corner of rural Nevada; semi-homeless kids who bounce around from one parent, to another parent, a grandparent, or to a friend’s house sitting next to kids who have two supportive parents at home with high expectations for their success; kids who want to learn next to kids who don’t care, whose families don’t see the value in getting an education; kids who can write beautifully next to kids who struggle to write a single complete sentence.

Last week as I prepared, and during the past few days as I started to learn names and read through the first pieces of writing they submitted, I’ve been pondering if it’s at all possible to prepare enough to teach or even reach every kid that walks into my room?  The honest (and depressing) answer I’ve come up with is no, though I will try, even though it will give me more gray hair, but at least then I get a quiet moment at the hair dresser while she covers it all up.

On the bright side, I also know that I’ll teach some of them something.  There will be great days, and that is what I look forward to as a teacher.  I’ll do my best to teach each of them the power of words, to help them find and share their own voices through writing and speaking.  Some kids will discover their voice, or they’ll discover books and finish reading their first novel ever or maybe they’ll even write one.  (I actually had three students do that last year.)  I teach for those “aha” moments kids get when they understand they have a voice, they have a story, and it matters.  That is my passion; it is why I teach.  It is also why I write, to find and share my own voice.

So far, the past three days have gone well.  I haven’t had a nightmare since last weekend, and thankfully, my classroom hasn’t been struck by lightning yet either.  We’re off to a good start.

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  1. Sharon Rosse on August 25, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Your beautiful essay brought tears to my eyes and deserves a read by education administrators nationally, your fellow teachers across the country, parents of students, college education majors, and anyone who has a hand in controlling local, state, or national education dollars. Do submit this to the Elko Free Press – do they publish an opinion column? If the NEA [education version] has a magazine [print or online], do send this to them. Congratulations and thank you for sharing.

    • Amy Isaman on August 25, 2011 at 8:38 pm

      Wow – thank you. I’ll think about submission.

  2. Debra Mae on August 25, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    I have a daughter and daughter in law who are teachers and I think they would commiserate with you Amy. I am passing along your blog for them to enjoy.

    • Amy Isaman on August 25, 2011 at 8:38 pm

      Thank you Debra Mae. I appreciate that!

  3. Odd Omission on August 25, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    You sound like you’re an amazing teacher! I’m sure that your students will learn tons from you! I’m sure thunder wouldn’t be trying to get anywhere near your classroom. While there is hurricane Irene to think about, it’s on the east coast so I don’t think you have to worry too much.

    • Amy Isaman on August 27, 2011 at 1:16 am

      Thanks! We’ll see how this year goes. I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a range of kids. I did multiple intelligences survey and in two classes (59 kids) only 4 had words/language as their strength. Yikes!

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