Teacher's New Class

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The start of school each year is electric with excitement and anxiety. Students and parents fret: How will the new teacher be? Tough? Understanding? Strict?

But teachers have our antennae up, too. Will I reach each student? Who will struggle to learn? Who will be worrying me at 3 am? We try to prevent first impressions about kids from gelling stubbornly, remembering how young people are kaleidoscopes, capable of changing from the shy one, the clown, the agitator in the back row. We hope for the best.

When I was a rookie, a seasoned colleague ambled into my classroom in mid-September. She described the characters in her new class, and asked about those in mine. Both of us exaggerated for laughs. Then she got quiet. "You never know which kid will hook you," she mused. "I'm always surprised who sneaks into my heart to stay."

I thought I knew: I'll never enjoy the arrogant boy who shouts over everyone. Or the one who won't say thank you, or lend a hand. Or the girl who cries over every challenge. I'll get attached to the girl who reminds me of myself as a kid, or the polite boy who brings cookies to share.

As months went by; students and teacher thrown together for days on end, personalities emerged, souls came out of hiding. The loudmouth brainiac worked tirelessly, inspiring me to give up my lunch hour to help him. The boy with no manners was longing to trust that some adult cared about him. He became more kind, helpful. The timid girl blossomed into a deep, creative thinker.


In June, I was astonished. The least likely candidates had stolen my heart.
I never heard again from the girl I saw as my younger self, or the well-mannered cookie bearer. But years later the scared girl invited me to opening night of her first play, and the impolite lout wrote a letter thanking me for believing in him.

The art of mentoring young people demands staying open-minded, celebrating change. Fingers crossed, a teacher starts each new year with an open heart.

With a Perspective, I'm Marilyn Englander.

Marilyn Englander is founder of REAL School Marin.