NOT A TYPICAL FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL ENTRY

Summer, where I live anyway, is rapidly drawing to a close. I spent half of last week in a workshop and will spend four days this week taking or teaching workshops. Teachers in my district officially return to work a week from tomorrow. Tonight I found some terrific new first week of school ideas on English Companion ning. Brilliant educators are posting about community, engagement, rigor and passion. They are incorporating reading and writing and speaking and listening. They are using technology in thoughtful, real world ways. Reading these entries gets even more excited about heading back to school.

As someone who has always worked in urban settings, and as the mom of two kids with really unique histories, I want to take a different approach to the whole back to school thing. It's not that I don't love, love, love my job, because I do, or that I can't wait to get back into it (have I mentioned that I love teaching), but this morning, I want to think for a minute about things that get some kids off to a really rough start. I hope I won't offend people because that's not my intent. At the same time, I think there is some stuff that educators don't very often talk about. And maybe they should…

Here are some things that I am thinking about the first day of school.

1) I won't ask kids to research where their names came from. I adopted my boys when they were seven and nine. They were named by their biological mom, who is not a part of their life right now. We have no idea why she chose the names she did. My boys love me and they are, for the most part, pretty ok, but their biological family is still an area of huge hurt in their lives. They shouldn't have to start out their school year by explaining to someone they barely know why they can't do the first assignment.

2) I won't justify the "research your name" assignment by offering an alternate to kids who can't do the original assignment. Yes, my guys could do an alternate assignment, e.g. talk about why they have a hyphenated last name, but that is not what the rest of the class is doing. And like most other adolescents, they absolutely do not want to stand out or be identified as different in any way.

3) I will be careful about how I structure autobiography/timeline events. My son once spent an entire day creating a time line that basically skipped the seven years between the time he was born and time he moved in with me. I watched and tried to suggest possible events, but he wanted nothing to do with the things that occurred while he was in foster care. He got a D because he omitted basically about half of his life. I need to remember that some kids can't do a complete timeline or autobiography, either because they don't know their whole history or really don't want to remember that part of their lives. I won't penalize them for their history.

4) I will avoid "How I Spent My Summer" writing assignments. Many of my students have spent the entire summer locked in a hot apartment babysitting younger siblings, the highlight of their day was a trip to school for free breakfast or lunch. I also avoid favorite birthday or the best present they have ever received assignments, because some kids just don't have lots of happy memories.

5) I won't give points or rewards to kids who bring their supplies (or punish kids or make snide remarks if kids don't have school supplies). These are hard times. Some parents, no matter how much they care, simply don't have the money to send a ream of paper, or dry erase markers, or even a bottle of glue. Instead, I will seek out community programs, ask for donations from a church or service organization, or hit up some of my friends who don't have their own children.I also hit all of the "Back to School" sales.

6) I won't give points or rewards to kids whose parents don't come to back to school night (or punish kids or make snide remarks about parents who don't come). Yeah, there are some parents who simply don't come, but there are others who have to choose between working and putting food on the table or coming to "Back to School" night, and still more who don't have childcare or transportation. I will offer some alternative dates, (maybe the morning after the first "Back to School" night while everything is still set up), make a point of being outside when kids are dropped off or picked up. I will also make sure parents have phone numbers and emails and contact information for me.

8) I will make sure that the first day includes the most interesting and engaging content I can pull together. And the best read aloud.

9) I will tell the kids about me the first day of school. I want them to know that I have two teenage boys who play football. I will tell stories about my two crazy, naughty black lab teenager puppies. I will tell them about moving this summer and how many boxes of books I carried. I'm trying to decide how I will do this- through collage or imovie or ????

10) I will make sure the first day includes lots of activities for my visual and kinesthetic learners.
We are going to read lots of great books, laugh, personalize the room, make collages, do a science experiment or an activity that involves reading to cook or make something. We are not going to spend the day talking about rules, or passing out books and talking about what happens to kids who lose their books.

10) I will make sure that the first day includes lots of laughter. What is learned with laughter is never forgotten.