My Homework on the 1st Day of School

Every year on the first day of school (or Teacher's New Year as we like to call it), we ask our students to write a letter to themselves detailing their expectations, hopes, and goals for the year ahead. Tomorrow, we will collect their (sealed) letters and put them away until the last day of school. It is always fun to watch students laugh as they open their letters at the end of the school year and are shocked by their growth (as writers, learners, and more) and how their perceptions and expectations have changed!

Below is my letter to myself:

Dear (future) Nina,

No matter how many first days of school you teach, they always feel the same: exciting, exhausting, and nerve-wracking! There are so many things I am joyfully anticipating this year: a third year in a row teaching the same grade at the same school with the same co-teacher (unprecedented stability for me), mentoring an apprentice teacher, and adding more "action" components to our social justice curriculum, to name a few.

It also seems like every year my students get younger. Today, looking at their faces, I was surprised how  emotional I felt about wanting to protect them from the world. My students are in fifth grade and initially seemed so grown up to me compared to my former first graders. I also am a huge proponent of talking about the news at school (in a developmentally appropriate way, of course). But today, looking at their faces and thinking about so many things that happened over the summer, I just wanted to shield them. I just wanted to keep them safe from harm and hurt. This is always our first priority as teachers, but my feelings today were more visceral than practical.

We had our students write top ten lists about themselves: the top ten things you should know about _______. One of my students wrote that he loves school. Another wrote that she is not a morning person (modeled after a similar point on my top ten list). They were beyond thrilled to read what their teachers wrote about and had follow up questions and remembered details related to the facts shared. One of my students told me over lunch that he had heard we have a "puberty" unit. He looked suspicious, but simultaneously very curious.  That juxtaposition of emotions is precisely why our health and wellness unit is so essential.

Tomorrow, I will put a copy of this letter in an envelope, seal it, and put it away until the last day of the school year.  My students and co-teachers will do the same.  Hopefully, when we open our letters to our future selves, we will be amused by the limits of our expectations and find that we have broadly surpassed them.

What were your impressions on the first day of school?  Do you have reflections to help students record where they were at the beginning of the year? I would love to hear thoughts and variations on the first day of school letter!

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