A Teacher's First Day of School

Posted on: Thu, 09/14/2017 - 09:00

Guest blog by Mark S. Kavanaugh, 1997 Teacher of the Year.

I texted my 23 year old daughter the following two questions as she prepares for her second year as a 4th grade teacher: “Year 2 easier than year one?” and “Feels better to be a vet, no?” Her responses were brief. “Yep!” and “Yep it does” was all she had time to say. We weren’t in contact much the weekend before school started. She spent much of her Saturday and Sunday in school preparing her classroom.  While in theory we teachers have this weekend to relax and prepare for another school year, anyone who teaches knows that much of this weekend will be filled with work, preoccupation and anxiety and anticipation.

For me, gone are the worries and pangs of self-doubt that we try to mask under a veneer of self-confidence. But I remember those days well. On the eve of my 31st year, I am more excited than nervous. I want to try out those new activities I came up with over the summer.  If I do it right, day one will not be a deadening day of stultifying “dos” and “don’ts” but rather an experience that will challenge, inspire, pique interest and maybe animate students to want to come back and learn more.

The ability to use one’s imagination and having the freedom to create is one on the best parts of my job. This year I will teach Spanish 4 for the first time in a few years. We have a new book so I will develop new lessons. I recently saw a clip of Monty Python and the Holy Grail in Spanish and got an idea. Remember the scene between King Arthur and the Black Knight? First, it is full of vocabulary from Spanish 2 and 3. I could whip up a review worksheet in a jiffy for practice. That would be fun.

But secondly and more importantly, the ultimate message of this scene, though silly, can be perseverance.  If you remember, the Black Knight while bloodied, refuses to stop fighting. With no appendages left, he is undaunted. His spirit is not broken. He refuses to give up the fight. King Arthur calls it a draw (and a tie-un empate is a Spanish 3 vocab word, yay!). The Black Knight simply won’t concede defeat. That’s the metaphor for the year!

I will teach a very challenging subject matter, in a foreign language, to a diverse group of students. Some are well armed and some have very little protective armor, if you will.  And they may get bloodied in the process. Learning foreign languages at a high level is hard. But winning is staying in the game and refusing to stop fighting, just like the Black Knight. I’m pretty sure I can also make a connection with Connor MacGregor losing his big fight, too.  “Losing” while earning $150 million just for staying in the fight. Gotta stay relevant and current with the kids. It’s a good message.

Will it work?  Who knows! But I do know that I’ll enjoy teaching it. And that will be my message to my daughter after the first day of school.  Make sure to create good lessons and activities that you will enjoy teaching. If you do, the enthusiasm is normally contagious. If it doesn’t work out, create a better one for the next day. You get at least 179 more chances.

My 5,401st chance started on September 5.