Meeting a new group of students is like starting a road trip on an unfamiliar route in an unfamiliar car. There is great potential…and a little anxiety…in preparing for all that might come along the way.
When I was in graduate school learning to be a teacher, one of my professors compared getting a new class of students to renting a car for the year.
As he pointed out, when you reserve a rental car, you can typically request a certain size, but the model and features will be a mystery until you pick the car up. At the end of your time with the car, you might be really sad about giving it back. Or, you might be skipping back to the rental office to cheerily throw your keys at the manager. In both cases, though, you have to learn how to drive that specific car and to make it your own for the short time that you have it.
This is an apt comparison to each new group of students that I teach. I always know the general specs of the class, like grade level and even data points for reading and writing ability. But their personalities and character take time and experience to learn about.
Just like each car is unique, each group of students has its unique challenges and character. While sometimes I am more than ready to return a group of students, most of the time I’m really sad to release them to a new driver.
At the beginning of this year, I was nervous about what kind of class I would get. Last year, I had a difficult group of seniors that challenged my confidence as a teacher. I finished the year doubting my ability to create a strong and productive classroom environment and sad for how the frustration of working with a difficult group had played out in my individual relationships with each student.
That group of students made me happy that I could turn in my rental car.
I knew this year that my students would be a similar make and model. After the first day of school, when everyone was on their best behavior, I felt a little reassured, but I wasn’t 100% ready to take this new “car” out for a drive.
Then it happened. On the second day of school I got butterflies in my stomach.
They were different from the butterflies of nervousness that kept me awake on the night before the first day of classes and stronger than the butterflies of exhaustion that hit after back to school night. These were butterflies of anticipation.
These butterflies came while I was reading through the exit slips I had my students write on the first day of class.
To help me remember their names, I asked them to describe something unique, interesting or strange about themselves. As I read through their writing, I looked at their school pictures, trying to commit their names to memory. Looking at their smiles and reading about their summer vacations and obsessions with various hobbies, sports, styles of television and so on, I can’t help but feel strong pulls of affection towards each of them.
With this surge of affection, my concerns about my abilities as a teacher became very small as I realized that this group of students, while similar in their age and demographics to last year’s class, is a new group of students.
I also realized that I have the ability to make sure that the classroom environment is built on solid and supportive foundations. After spending time reflecting on the challenges of last year, I discovered that while I can let past challenges inform my practice, I can’t let them define who I am as a teacher. After all, I got to turn in that car last spring. These students represent an entirely new car and an entirely new set of opportunities.
I’m sure that once the honeymoon period of the first two-week of classes are over, I will have to remind myself of the charms that brought on my initial affection for this new group of kids. However, as I prepare for our first full week of school together, I am choosing to let that affection and hope color my attitude. I am grateful for these things, as they are helping me to regain some of my confidence and, with it, my anticipation for the year to come.
So, here’s to a new year, a new rental car, and all the new adventures that will surely come along with both. Happy driving!
Image Credit: By Ildar Sagdejev (Specious) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons