I’ll never forget my first day of kindergarten some 22 years ago. It was my 5th birthday, and the first day of school. I only have one image in my mind from that day, and that image will be cemented in my mind for the rest of my life.
I remember sitting, turned towards the external windows, light coming in through the slits in the blinds. The shelves were filled with things I only knew to be “teacher things” at that point in time. The carpeted area where we had read alouds and the calendar off to the left, directly across from the hooks and cubbies that housed all of our things. Other kids walked around me, many of whom I did not yet know. Cupcakes sat on tables, waiting to be eaten, my mom and my teacher walking around helping pass them out. The room was filled with joyful noise, or perhaps I just remember it that way because I was so overjoyed to be going to school and to be able to celebrate my birthday with my classmates.
While I had been to preschool, I like to think that this one experience—this initiation into public school—is the sole reason why I have always continued to love school so much. The cupcakes will forever be a symbol of the sweet satisfaction that comes through building community, my mom and teacher edifices representing the partnership it takes to educate children, and the flood of joyful noise an indicator of a lively and nurturing classroom culture. Perhaps because of this very moment, I continued to see school as a place where I was successful, a place where I was valued, despite the occasional trials and tribulations of growing up.
Today, on this 8th day of September, I start Kindergarten all over again, as I will now be teaching a transitional kindergarten/kindergarten/1st grade multi-age class. For the past five years, I’ve become a seasoned upper elementary school teacher, attuned to the nuances of middle childhood and pre-adolescence, keenly aware of the social, emotional, and cognitive development that occurs at this magical age. And today, I have the opportunity to begin the same journey with a new age group. I’ll learn the nuances of early childhood and the foundations of child development that will carry them onward through their schooling.
But most of all, I have a chance today to pay my good memory forward, to share with my students the feelings and memories that bubble up when I think about my first day of school some 22 years ago: feelings of community partnership, and overwhelming joy that ended up setting the tone for the next 12 years of my schooling.
I’ve spent the last few weeks preparing vigorously to begin this new challenge. I’ve been reading blogs, getting resources from fellow teachers, and checking out books on child development. I’ve been building plans with my co-teachers, setting up our classrooms, and buying materials that we believe will help them develop literacy skills, mathematical aptitudes, and social-emotional capacities. Moreover, we’ve been collaborating with other teachers at our site to build a strong and consistent school community.
But as I ride the train this morning, taking my last few deep breaths before yet another school year begins, that same image—the image from my first day of kindergarten—is burned into my mind, recurring with every blink of my eyes.
Today will not—and cannot—be about academics, goal-setting, or grit. Those things will come. Today will be the spark that ignites a love for school, a symbol of sweet satisfaction, a building of many partnerships, and most importantly, the joy that all children should feel when they come to school.