Today was the first day of school here in this quaint little Midwest town. Of course, I wasn't involved in the first day happenings at any of the schools here since I'm leaving town in a week, but many of my friends work. And given that classes started today, it got me thinking about what the first day of school is like.
For one thing, the first day of school isn't really the first day of school. Now, in the week before the first day, there's Open House. I remember Open House when I was little - it was usually a time to briefly meet your teacher, walk through the school, then leave. Other times, there was no Open House--at least not until after school started, and then a week or two later, Mom and Dad came to visit and see the classroom and the art projects on the wall, because Open House was a time for parents to see what the school was like. Now, Open House is a mini first day. At some schools, it's an evening affair--at the school I worked at, it was a day-long event. Students and their families popped by whenever they wanted, regardless of when teachers were trying to eat lunch, plan, set up the classroom, or trying to go home and escape the frenzy because, by God, we were all off work twenty-five minutes ago. Anyway. Kids show up, meet the teachers, make their name tags, choose a cubby, play with books and toys, make some art projects, visit the playground... all things that, when I was a child, we did on the first day of school.
When the first day of school does roll around, though, the kids still have their nervous jitters. Off they go to school--usually with parents in tow.
Now, I noticed that there were different types of parents on the first day.
1. The Picture Taker
This parent was usually dropping off a kindergartner (preschool parents didn't mind so much - they didn't really consider preschool school, it was just a place to drop off kids for the day) or a student new to that particular school. The camera was out. Flashbulbs were flashing. A constant stream of, "Jack, look over here! Jack, smile! Smile for me, Jack! Jack, look at the camera! Jack, go stand by your teacher--now look at Mommy--yes--yes, that's good. Oh, just one more. Stand there by your cubby. Stand by the window. Smile. Smile. SMILE."
2. The Worrier
This parent fussed. You all know the type: the mother (the fathers never fuss) who crouches down and licks her finger to clean her child's face, fiddles with his jacket, fixes his hair... she attends to any number of minute details on her child before finally, reluctantly, letting him venture into the classroom looking a bit shell shocked.
3. The Questioner
The Questioner parent approaches the teacher with seemingly no regard for the tight schedule teachers keep in their classroom. This parent proceeds to fire off a string of roughly five million questions, ranging from What will you be doing today? to Now, tell me, what happens if there's a fire, an earthquake, and a tornado all at once? It usually takes intervention from another teacher, another parent, or a crying student to allow the beleaguered teacher to escape The Questioner.
4. The Lingerer
The Lingerer, well, lingers. This parent doesn't want to leave his or her child. Both mothers and fathers are notorious lingerers, especially for children who are new to school. Where I worked, since we had observation booths, lingering could get really bad. On the first day, a good fifteen parents would cram themselves into this tiny booth and watch their children sit through morning meeting... and the beginning of Literacy (a glorified reading and writing time)... and sometimes the beginning of recess. The worst of the lingerers would leave for a bit, and then return at lunch time. Listen up, Lingerers: your child will be okay. I know it's hard to cut the cord and leave them alone at school, especially that first time, but you need to do it. Your child needs to learn to be independent, and if you're hovering in the classroom all morning and personally bringing them lunch, they won't learn to stand on their own two feet. They will also be teased for having their mom or dad watching them all day long. Lingering for about ten minutes at the start of the very first day is considered okay, and after that, the teacher wants you to leave. You are infringing on the teacher's authority and teaching capabilities by hovering.
5. And last, but not least, the Leavers
The Leavers do just that: they leave. These are the parents who pull up to the curb, kiss their kids on the cheek, and then drive away. They trust that their child will be fine in school, so after a quick wave, they're off to work or pilates or whatever they do during the day. This parent returns on time to pick their child up at the end of the day, waves merrily at the teacher, and heads home.
While there are many types of parents, the kids seem to be pretty much the same. They're nervous. They want to make friends. They smile a bit at each other and sit quietly in the classroom, listening to the teacher, hoping it's going to be a good school year. They want to succeed. I have yet to meet a child who really wants to fail.
So for the students, when the end of the day comes, they have hopefully survived in one piece and come out of their shells. The second day of school is always easier, and their personalities start to shine through. All they need to know is that their teacher is okay, they have friends, and they're all set.