A view of a teacher’s first day of school. Artwork “Ms. V. and her Mad Skillz” by former student Chris Mayweather. 

Teachers aren’t really much different than students on their first day back to school. Some of us are excited, some of us anxious, some apathetic. There is a nervous tension, with hundreds of teachers jammed into a crowded auditorium awaiting direction for the new school year. We hear the announcements: who has left, who has arrived, what progress has been made on high-stakes state mandated tests. There is an underlying feeling that a schedule must be maintained, a task list must be checked and that there is just not enough time to accomplish it all. The climate feels frantic.

All too often, the spark is just not there.

My first day back was filled with an anxiety-inducing excess of information. New evaluation mandates, updated computer programming, student handbook revisions and scheduling revisions all vied for my attention. Feverishly taking notes, I dreaded the start of the year. There was no joy.

It made me think of my own students.

How should I greet them on the first day? Should I immediately get them into their assigned seats? Should I place in front of them a syllabus filled with overwhelming information, to be taken home with the 5 other syllabi (also filled with overwhelming information) to be signed by exhausted parents? Should I go over the rules and regulations and procedures for my class, forgetting that all of the other teachers, whose rules and regulations are very different from my own, are doing the same?

Or should I set a different tone? Should I spark joy?

On my first day back to school, I did not feel the joy I so needed to feel. But, later that evening, as the day came to a close and the doors were opened to the community for our annual Open House, that all changed. Anxious, excited students started to fill the halls. They brought with them their parents and siblings. Sometimes they brought grandparents or trusted family friends. It was in that moment, when my first new student walked through my door, that I felt that spark of joy.

This, I thought, is what brings me back. Year after year. This is what matters.