This fall will be the first time in 32 years that I have not gone to school early – well before the day that teachers are to report- to set up my ‘home away from home’. We all spend more time in our classrooms than we do in our homes during the school year! I must admit that I have mixed feelings. I am very happy NOT to have to give up my free time to return to a very demanding job that keeps me under fluorescent lights for at least 10 hours a day, yet I am sad not to be catching up with everyone: parents, kids, teachers. I am a social person by nature (aren’t all teachers?) and love the interactions that I had each day. So, I will be thinking of my colleagues, former students, and of course my friends who still have school age kids starting back this fall.
So, what is it like to begin a school year? Well, you happened to come to the right place. Let’s start with those non-required days….even before the non-required teacher workdays. Many teachers, the driven ones, will check in frequently all summer just to keep their pulse on things. I did for many many years. As I got older, well into the 25 year mark, I began to stay away from school longer and longer each summer. (The last year, I never set foot at school until I started back to decorate my room).
My husband and children would go in with me about 13 days prior to the day that the students began. This was generally 3 days prior to the non-required workday start. This allowed me to do all that I wanted to do in my classroom. As a high school teacher of Spanish, I put a lot of money, time, creativity, and energy into making my classroom comfortable, functional, and interesting. It had to ‘teach’. I wanted my kids to enjoy coming to my room and I wanted to have everything that I needed to teach (well beyond a curriculum) easily.
We unloaded crates into the classroom from my car first. These were my personal items: Photographs, handcrafted items from around the Spanish-speaking world, and items that had to be cleaned at the end of the previous school year. Once those materials were in the classroom , I could begin bringing out of storage all the materials, furniture, boxes, files, books, and decorations that I had stored just a few months prior at the end of the school year. (The custodians required us to empty our rooms as each summer, they meticulously cleaned the school from top to bottom and waxed the floors.) My husband would screw things tighter that had gotten loose (stool and desk chair), and my son and I would work on putting the furniture (bookshelves, teacher desk, filing cabinets, and students desks) all in their proper placement for that school year. Periodically, I would change up the configuration depending on class size, levels that I was teaching, etc. This all would take a full day.
Next came the books and decorations. I would unpack each of the book boxes and determine how I wanted them to be placed that year (readers, textbooks, workbooks, ancillaries, games, magazines, newspapers, and realia). I would place my mexican blanket neatly over the top of my filing cabinets and place the classroom phone , a lamp, and a calendar on top. (That special frog calendar from Salamanca, Spain disappeared a few years ago. I hope that whoever decided to take it enjoys it. I sure did…)
One year, I had the coolest setup. It was the last year that I taught all upper levels Spanish 4, 5, AP, and IB juniors and seniors. I had a reading niche in the back of my classroom next to a bookshelf. I bought a carpet, a cool bucket chair (like you would have in a dorm) and had the readers, newspapers, and games all back there. The kids loved it!! The following year, I chose to drop back down to level 1 as I couldn’t handle the complexity of the lesson plans, the multiple levels, and being department chair. It was just too much. This change required me to get rid of the chair and carpet. The niche had to go. There were 39 kids in my class that semester.
Lastly were the walls. Lovingly, I placed the posters, the sayings, the photos, and the realia all around the room to ensure learning and interest. Geeee, my last semester, I had the coolest door. It was a QR code reader door that featured some of my favorite musical artists from around the Spanish speaking world. If the kids would take their QR Code reader and light on the codes on the door, they could hear a clip from that artist. ON the door, they could see the artist, his hometown, and read a short bio. Man, it was awesome!!
Once the decorations were finished, the next thing was my desk and work area. I had to have what I needed at my fingertips. Organization was key and I was a bit fanatical about it. My drawers had to have what I and my students would need: bandaids, first aid cream, lint roller, contact solution, snacks, thank you cards plus all the normal teacher things like paper clips and pens.
Lastly, I cleaned. I scrubbed my student desks, cleaned my white board, dusted everything, and set up my little plug in to make the room smell fresh. (We must be very careful what we use as students have all kinds of allergies).
The last thing we did was stand at the door, gaze upon this perfectly prepared, clean and organized masterpiece as it would never look like this again until exactly 365 days later. Happily, as the sun set outside in the parking lot, I would shut off the light and close the door, ensuring that it was locked. I was ready (or was I?) to start another year. That night, I would take home my clean grade book with my rosters and I would set up a temporary grade book to last me 5 days until the drop/add period was over. Then, I would again take home my new rosters and excitedly set up my new grade book with all my students and their new Spanish names. Yes, this is the longest post yet. I enjoyed every minute of those opening days to myself.
The next days brought meetings, department gatherings, luncheons, student orientations, and stress as we began to prepare for students. Did you know that all this went on behind the scenes?