Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Last First Day

The first time I had a first day of school, I was four years old and starting kindergarten. I vividly remember the scarlet Big Chief tablets, the viscid paste in the small plastic jars with screw top lids, and the endless crayons with their pristine paper wrappers that took my breath away. Because I could already read and write, the teacher did not know quite what to make of me when I insisted printing my name SheLLy because I felt it looked much more interesting that way. I also recall hearing the teacher ask for the student "Robber" when she called roll. I was aghast that we could already have a thief amongst us and I pulled my daisy decorated lunchbox closer to me so he wouldn't take it. It wasn't until much later that I realized his name was Robert. I still kept my lunchbox close to me, though.

Another beginning day of school was memorable because I was riding the bus for the first time. We rounded a corner near a large chicken farm and before the driver could stop, the bus plowed through hundreds of chickens escaped from one of the coops nearby. It was a gruesome aftermath, but some of the boys darted off the bus to collect feathers while adults sorted it out. For weeks, those feathers made odd appearances throughout the school and even in the cafeteria.

In the eighth grade, upon filing into the science classroom for the first time, I and most of my other friends stopped short as the new teacher greeted us at the door. With a smile more beautiful than Donny Osmond's and long hair like Steve Morse of Kansas, he was already our favorite teacher with hardly a word spoken.

My first day of school as a teacher found me fully prepared with a surfeit of material to cover. I even wondered if it would take me the whole week to get to everything I wanted to do that first day. 15 minutes into the first 55 minute period of the day found me having covered every last bit of material I had, including some I had planned for the second day. No clock has ever ticked louder than the one over my classroom door that day.

An odd first day of school had the mom of a 6th grader who was entering public school for the first time motioning me frantically to the door just after I'd called roll. "I have something for Jamie, something he has to have right now," she informed me. "It's really important!" I nodded and called Jamie, a diminutive boy with intense glasses, to the door. She hardly waited until he got outside the room before pulling a baby bottle filled with milk from her purse and holding it in front of him so he could dutifully latch on and pull deep draughts from it.

And now, 46 years after my first day of school, I am nearing my last first day of school. I will likely choose to retire at the end of this school year, which for us begins Monday. Some things that used to be staples of first days are long extinct, like the desiccated feel of the chalk, drawing wild patterns with compasses and protractors, and the individually leafed gradebooks meticulously and alphabetically filled out in a teacher's best handwriting.

I've always enthusiastically embraced the newest and most cutting edge of things for my classroom and my students, but I find I'm becoming almost a modern day Luddite in reaching back for what once was. I can still hear those long ago voices laughing, reciting, discussing, and speaking the language of learning and it  makes me a little wistful. My modern, technologically advanced classroom is an epoch away from the one I started in as a four year old.

Some things, though, don't change. It cheers me that when this last first day of school rolls around, there will be new voices still laughing, still reciting, still discussing, and still speaking the language of learning.

66 comments:

  1. I had to laugh about the chickens, although I'm sure at the time it wasn't funny. Lots of good memories of first days of school, as a student and a teacher! It will be a bittersweet last first day come Monday, but I'm sure it will be a great year ahead!

    betty

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    1. Betty: Thank you! I really don't know how it's going to hit me yet, but I can't believe it's already here.

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  2. This is a bittersweet moment for you, dear SheLLy. If you choose to retire at the end of this school year you will most surely leave a void that will be hard to fill. As I have gotten to know you I have come to realize that you are everything a teacher (and a parent, and a friend) should be. Perhaps you will surprise yourself and decide to continue teaching after this year.

    I will always remember my first day of school because my teacher, an elderly woman nearing the end of her career, got me confused with a boy who had a name nearly identical to mine, especially when the names were spoken aloud. (Thomas Anderson and Thomas Sanderson) At the end of the day she put the other boy on my bus and sent him home to my neighborhood while holding me at the school to take a later bus across the township to his neighborhood. My mother was waiting for me at the bus stop and when I didn't get off she freaked out and rushed to the school just in time to prevent me from boarding the bus to nowhere.

    I hope this turns out to be your greatest year ever, dear friend!

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    1. Shady: I can see why your mom would have freaked out! So glad she made it there in the nick of time- I hope that teacher quickly learned your name.

      Thank you for your very kind words- I know that I will deeply miss teaching when I do leave it, although my plans now are to teach part time at the university. Not quite the same as public school, but teaching nonetheless. And I was just thinking that- I so want this year to be the most magnificent, best school year ever.
      -SheLLy

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  3. Tra la, tra la! May the blessings you find in this school year linger with you, while the tough spots become merely bumps in a flower-strewn pathway.

    Oh, stop it, vanilla. Shelly's year will be wonderful and she will be blessed

    (I still think I had the greatest job in the world; and after 22 years away from it, I have yet to miss it.)

    Have a great one!

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    1. vanilla: Thank you for the good wishes! I am glad to hear you feel that way with no regrets, because that's exactly how I want it to be for me.

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  4. I don't remember my first day of school, I do remember my first day at high school and I hated it what I remember most was getting lost and not being able to find a class room......
    If you retire do you have any idea how you will fill your days

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    1. Jo-Anne: Oh, I so remember getting lost, too, the first day of high school. Didn't want to go back~

      I think I will make good on an offer to teach part time at the university if I do retire. At least it would still be teaching, though on a more manageable scale-

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  5. I was so caught up in reading your 'first' days of school and feeling the flow of it all, then the whole baby bottle for a 6th grader threw me off I had to read it again to make sure I read it right.

    Holy Cow! What a shocker!

    Well deary, enjoy your retirement I have a few more years a head of me still.

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    1. Saimi: I've never seen anything like that kid since. He didn't last long in public school and I've often wondered what happened to him.

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  6. I hated retirement, so now I am trying to stay veRy busy with several new things, lotza new toys, trying to see what works and what doesn't. I do get to spend more time with the wife and dog which is a giant plus.

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    1. ESB: I'm thinking I'm going to have lots to keep me busy, at least I hope...

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  7. I remember many of those school items you started out with. Sad to see so many changes, but as you say the power of learning remains.

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    1. Stephen: The classroom is so very different these days, as are the mindsets of the kids, but in the end, they are still kids and they still need to learn.

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  8. Isn't it interesting, Shelly, that each transition in our lives, even ones much anticipated, feel bittersweet? How wonderful that you still love teaching and the process of learning and will have joy in what you do this year. And you have so much to look forward to -- and are so fortunate to be able to retire at such a young age when so much else is still possible. I'll be thinking of you next Monday, though, and hoping the day is primarily a sweet one for you!

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    1. Dr. Kathy: That's very true- I didn't really think I'd be having this mix of emotions I'm having now. I feel very blessed to be able to retire at 51, and I am looking forward to what this next season in my life holds. Thank you for your thoughts!

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  9. Dearest SheLLy,
    Oh, you had two kinds of very first day of school!!! Surely you must have a feeling which we can never guess. From this post of yours, I liked two parts of your writing. "My modern, technologically advanced classroom is an epoch away from the one I started in as a four year old." and "Some things that used to be staples of first days ~~~  filled out in a teacher's best handwriting.". I wonder if your feeling is a "bittersweet" or something else; like your friend said. And I truly agree that you have many possibilities☆☆☆ We do have some big milestones in life, don't we!!! I DO hope good luck on your teaching job part at the university, my friend.
    Well, my first day of kindergarten; I remember onlyone thing that my mom forced me to find my shoes box, which means I had to read my name. I thought "No Way, mom. You didn't teach me." I just was half crying p;)

    Sending you lots of love and hugs from Japan, xoxo Miyako*

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    1. Orchid: Yes, I would definitely say my feelings are bittersweet right now. I do hope as the year goes on that I will be able to move on with it in great joy. I am looking forward to teaching a different grade level, although that won't start for another year. I had to smile a lot at your memory- so very cute, my dear friend Miyako!

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  10. Shelly glad that your heart is filled with the joy of your gift the Lord has given you. Thank you for sharing dear one. Blessings.

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    1. Just Be Real: Thank you, my friend!

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  11. Here's a toast to a great last year. I'm raising a half-pint of strawberry-flavored milk that expires tomorrow. Even with all of our grades on the computer, I STILL hustle into the office to grab an old red gradebook. Gotta have a back-up plan, and a quick reference for make-up work and attendance.

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    1. Val: Clinking my glass of protein drink to your half pint- hope your new year will be the best ever~

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  12. Here's a toast with chocolate that I am eating as I blog. Congrats to all those years giving and giving and giving to the youth.

    on a side note...
    I didn't get to comment on the last post but will do so now...
    about girls and boys...women and men..oh HOW they differ.

    This is me..drive, hand back a zillion things to my toddler, look back to make sure she is ok and not choking, find a video on my phone for her to watch..(thankful for voice command), just a zillion things while driving.

    We were driving by a train and Ava wanted the window rolled down to see and hear it.
    The screaming for this to happen somehow doesnt penetrate Brian's ears so I need to tell him to roll the window.

    All he has to do is press a button. He almost goes off the road...because he hits those grooves in the road that make the car vibrate so those people who fall asleep do not crash...He rolls the window only half way down so she still is screaming because the windows are tinted and she still cannot see the choochoo train. I ask to roll it all the way down and he says,

    "I am trying to drive!"

    It really is hard for guys to do that sorta thing.
    Amazing.

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    1. Christine: Toasting with chocolate is the best kind of toast!

      Oh, that's so funny about how he couldn't roll down the window any more so he could drive! I think that's so true in general of most men- they get so focused on a singular thing that multi-tasking really throws them off. We, on the other hand, at the risk of sounding scatter brained, juggle a million things at a time and never think twice about it!

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  13. Another awesome post my friend and as always I love reading your memories. I have to admit that the boy with the baby bottle really got me. Caught myself feeling sorry for him and his mom. You are so right about the times changing as I remember back to the days I spent (all 12 years) on the same piece of real estate. I was in the next to the last graduating class of Nashville High School in Nashville, NC as they built a new large high school that had trailers by their 2nd year. I felt blessed to have elementary, middle and high school at one big location.

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    1. Odie: I never quite figured out the boy with the baby bottle. He didn't last long in public school and I've often wondered what happened to him. I agree- it is a blessing to be able to spend all 12 years in one place. It is so rare these days~

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  14. This story brought back good memories of my own first days of school. Funny how the smell of paste and paint can take you right back. I always loved my teachers in elementary school, and I think I liked most of them all the way through to my final year in high school. I look at my grandkids, and how they have learned so much more in kindergarten than we ever did. They are fluent readers. I remember mostly just playing house and painting, and learning letters. And what a wonderful world reading brings to us! I'm excited when I listen to them read to me when we Skype. Wonderful post, Shelly. They'll miss one great teacher when you retire!

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    1. Karen: It is incredible how advanced kids are these days. What my middle schoolers do used to be the realm of graduate school. I LOVE that you get to read with your grandkids on Skype. What precious memories are built with that!

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  15. Daddy Jim's Preschool. We learned to name our untensils in French and road through the countryside in the upper deck of a railroad club car. We never quit learning and those of you who the special gift to teach, never stop. Have your best year yet!

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    1. Gene Pool Diva: Daddy Jim's sounds like a true wonderland~ thank you!

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  16. Good luck this year and have fun! Do you have enough years to retire? You are so young. I know the kids love you. sandie

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    1. Sandie: Thank you! And yes, I will have 29 years of teaching in public schools and one in university at the end of this year. It surely has gone by fast~

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  17. Shelly...I'm thrilled for you that you will probably retire, but so sad for all the students who might have had you as their teacher! My sister just retired in June. She said people always told her you will know when it's time. She said they were right! Wishing you a wonderful year and many new discoveries in the years ahead!
    Loves~Loves~Loves~

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    1. Sush: Thank you, my friend- I really have such mixed emotions about it right now that I hope they will all sort themselves out soon. I hope your sister fully enjoys her retirement!

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  18. Good luck! Can I just say, I love that you used the word "surfeit" in your post. :)

    Teachers are my heroes!

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    1. Lydia: I love the way that word rolls out of the mouth~ and thank you!

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  19. bittersweet...my sister was a teacher forever and retired last year...she is painting ,traveling, taking pictures of everything ..but she so misses her students....definitley bittersweet.
    good luck to you this year!!
    2 of my older kids teachers also retired at the end of last yr..and knowing my boys will not have them is very sad to me...they instilled a desire for learning in my kids..oh well..guess they deserve to retire too!!! when i see them i make a point to remind them what difference they made in my children's life...

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    1. Annmarie: It's precisely people like you and your kids who are going to make me miss it so much. I'm glad to hear your sister is staying busy and having fun~

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  20. I was just thinking about this the other day. My campus is so focused on using technology in the classroom, and I get it to an extent, but that's certainly not what it's all about. I'm actually quite hesitant to succumb.

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    1. Missed Periods: I have turned almost 180 degrees on this. I used to be so pro technology, and I still agree it has its benefits, but to make it the axis of all learning is wrong.

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  21. Oh Shelly, it was wonderful to read these memories of first days. I am so nostalgic for days of crayons and chalk. I think of you as such a young, energetic person with a great enthusiasm for life that it's difficult to imagine you are considering retirement. What a huge moment that will be on Monday morning.

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    1. Jenny: It's so hard to believe that it will be 29 years. But, I feel incredibly blessed to still be young enough and feel great enough to embark on a second career at the end of this one, which will keep me in the classroom, albeit with older humans than middle schoolers, on a part time basis. Life really is good, isn't it?

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  22. Dear Shelly, this is, in its own way, a poignant posting. It reminisces about those long-ago years when you, yourself, were a child. Those memories we have stored are a gift to us from the past. And the posting also, in another layer of meaning, invites us to think about the great differences between schools today and when we first crossed over into kindergarten.

    Of course, also this reminds me of our country and how it, too, has changed. A ending of the poem "Ulysses" by Alfred Lord Tennyson comes to mind. As you know, he was a British poet of the nineteenth century. Here are the lines that end his poem:

    Though much is taken, much abides; and though
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are:
    One equal temper of heroic hearts,
    Make weak by time and fate, but strong to will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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    1. Dee: I have been out of town and behind on my comments, but I was truly touched by your comment. The excerpt from Ulysses is something I haven't read in a long time, but one that caused me just to stop and think for a bit. So very appropriate and moving. Thank you so much, friend~

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  23. Hi Shelly! I hope you enjoy your last first day of school and your last year as a teacher. I know you'll be deeply missed there when you leave and I know you'll miss everyone but it's great that you're retiring so young and will be able to enjoy yourself. I look forward to reading the further adventures of Shelly. I have a feeling that retirement won't slow you down one bit!

    I do remember my first day of school. I was really nervous. That's all I really recall about it. I remember standing outside with my aunt, who had walked me to school and waiting for them to open the doors. I don't remember anything specific about the day, though. Wow, that was a long time ago. Olden times...(lol) ;)

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    1. Jenn June: Thank you so much! It's still kind of surreal that I can finally be at this stage in my life. I think if we could bottle all the first day of school nerves and do something positive with them, we'd have some really great new things going on in the world. I still get first day butterflies!

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  24. Well I guess congrats are in order that you will soon be beginning the next step of your life. Very very exciting!... I must admit, I'm a little disturbed by the 6th grader and the baby bottle...I'm not the only one, right?

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    1. Sandra: It is STILL disturbing to me- I've always wondered what happened to that kid...

      And thank you for the good wishes!

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  25. I just came across your blog and I "LOVE" it :D
    I am following you, you are welcome to follow me back if you want :)

    xxx
    http://abudhabifood.blogspot.com

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    1. Loly: Thank you for the kind comments! I am headed to yours right now~

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    2. u r so sweet, thank you so much, I appreciate your sweet comment and visit
      xoxo

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  26. nice post thanks for sharing i saw your blog thrue another follower...looking for to visit more..blessings across the miles...loves

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    1. my diary: Thank you for stopping by! Blessings to you, too, and I am headed over to your blog now~

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  27. I could read when I got to kindergarten too, and the teacher didn't know what to do with me either. I was so bored!

    I always enjoy your stories.

    Good luck on your last first day of school.

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    1. Theresa: Thank you! I'm going to savor every moment~

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  28. Hi Shelly, Isn't our memory a wonderful thing. You go back in yours to the days of childhood freedom and innocence. I suppose much of that was also remembered when you first became a teacher, so that you were able to put yourself in the place of your students, and understand their apprehensions.I believe you have made a wonderful teacher. One who will be remembered with fondness and love. Retirement can be strange, when you are not as set to a clock and the time. Enjoy your last year, I know you will. And God Bless you for the many hearts you have touched with encouragement. xx

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    1. Crystal Mary: Thank you so much for your kind words. I'm already trying to imprint every moment in my mind. It really is a bittersweet time and the emotions are so mixed, but as they say, onward!

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  29. No doubt this school year will be very special and full of "lasts". How exciting for you to be able to move on to something new. It sounds like a great opportunity. I'm sure that you'll be missed at the Middle School! Have a great year!!

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    1. Nancy: I'm really working to be mindful to appreciate every moment. I hope I can remember that when I've got 50 essays to grade and 20 parents to call!

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  30. I can only imagine how much things have changed in the classroom, but your writing brings me there...

    I'll bet your have been a wonderful teacher, but perhaps it is time for a bit of travel. May I suggest heading north?

    :-)

    Pearl

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    1. Pearl: Now if there's cooler air up there, I might just have to start traveling now...

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  31. Oh, this gave me goosebumps. Such a bittersweet year. Such a loss for all those future students to lose such a wonderful teacher. A much earned retirement. Hoping you see all the good you've done over the years and are able to see more and more of the fruits of your labors all around you. I will shake my head all day every time I think about that kid with the mama and bottle....funny, wierd, sad, good all in one thought. Things that make you go Hmmmmmmm......


    I didn't read all the comments, but did read Christines (because she's my friend:) and it made me laugh too, and reminded me of when Nicholas (my oldest) was a baby, Tom took him out of the car/car seat and was carrying him in somewhere and I said "Oh, grab the diaper bag>" To which he said, "I can't, I have the baby" Now me, who can carry 5 bags and a baby, my water bottle and even hold the hand of a toddler at the same time....just doesn't get it.

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  32. Jamie: Thank you so much. It's been more bittersweet than I thought. Just hoping and working for the best year yet.

    That was so funny about your husband and the baby- can you imagine if they had to multi-task everything we do??? But we still love them!

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