by Jim Szewc
As the end of August and the beginning of September approaches, and the joys and adventures of another summertime begin to fade, familiar thoughts and pleasant memories rush to the forefront of my mind. In my earliest recollection of this time, as a toothless six-year-old on the eve of 1st grade, I lay awake, a rarity among my peers, anxiously waiting for what lied ahead like others would for a vacation, birthday, or special event. Knowing the audience these ramblings will reach, I’m betting you can relate to these feelings.
As I type this, my calculations put me at twenty-eight times experiencing this joy. Seventeen as a student in both K-12 and higher education, eight as a 4th grade teacher, and most recently, three as a mentor to new teachers. I’m not going to pretend that I remember each and every one of these periods in my life vividly, but I can state with confidence that the excitement and feeling of a clean slate and promise of possibilities for a new school year have always been the golden thread that weaved through these last moments of summer vacation as the first day of school approached.
As a mentor, we teach our beginning teachers during orientation that the feeling of anticipation and excitement as August rolls into September is a very real and well-documented feeling an educator experiences each and every year of their career, especially the first. As I stroll in and out of my seventeen new mentees’ classrooms, getting to know them while helping connect their laptop and projector because they can’t wait to use the latest technology with their kids or rearranging student desks for the umpteenth time because it just doesn’t “feel” right, I can’t help but feel their contagious emotions spread and that familiar feeling returns.
Although I no longer have a classroom of my own, I do everything in my power to live vicariously through my beginning teachers. I hope my impact on their preparation and the instruction of their students can be enhanced with what knowledge I can impart on them, especially as we approach the first day. As I encourage my mentees to capture these moments anticipating their first year of teaching through their own journaling, I invite each of you to take pause and briefly remind yourself of this feeling that may have faded over the years. This unmistakable moment of elation and anticipation that you felt as a toothless 1st grader like myself, a freshman in your first night in the dorm, or the night before your opening day in the classroom as you took to the stage for the first time.
I challenge you, as veterans in education, to put aside the worry you may feel about the latest campus gossip, or how you are going to adapt and hop on the latest and greatest curriculum bandwagon. It is time to remind ourselves of these moments of anticipation, and the joy we felt on the eve of a new school year and spread that to our colleagues and students as we prepare for the moment the first bell rings. Now, more than ever, it is crucial that the next generation of students and teachers create their own positive memories of the joy of school and learning so that this spark will continue to grow for many school years to come.
Jim Szewc is a mentor to beginning teachers in Florida’s Hillsborough County Public Schools. He participated in the VIVA MET Idea Exchange.