When I was a bit younger, and had hair on my head, I remember being so excited for the release of a new CD from a band or artist I enjoyed listening to. I was so disappointed when my parents wouldn’t let me go to the midnight opening of our local record store to purchase the new Smashing Pumpkins double-disc Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness because it was a school night. Even in college, I took time out of my hectic schedule to purchase new CDs from bands I loved on the day they were released. I just couldn’t wait to listen to new music. I often felt like a kid at Christmas time, barely able to wait to rip open the decorative paper covering the gifts with my name etched upon the wrapping paper. Then, I grew up and became an adult. Being an adult is hard work. Who knew that adults had so many worries and tasks to do on a daily basis, including paying bills, going grocery shopping, filling the car with gas, vacuuming the house, plunging clogged toilets, and changing light bulbs. All of this stuff leaves very little time for thinking about new music, and so, as the years progressed, I stopped getting excited about when new music was being released. Tuesday was just another day in the week for me, until, that is, I found out through a delightful app on my smart phone that one of my favorite metal bands of all time was releasing a new album. After not releasing a new record in a few years, Slipknot had gone back into the studio to record their new album We Are Not Your Kind. I had the opportunity to read about the new album and how it was going to be very heavy and hard like their first two records. I even heard the first single from the album Unsainted. Wow, it sounds like the Slipknot I fell in love with back in college, I thought when I first heard it. As soon as I found out about the release date, I was pumped. I felt like I was back in high school again, waiting for new music to come out. On the release day, I went to a big box store only to find that they had sold out of the CD. Luckily, my town has a phenomenal little record store. So, I called them, hoping they still had a copy remaining on the shelves. With fingers and toes crossed, I waited for the clerk to check. Sure enough, they had two copies left. I had him hold a copy for me, as I safely but quickly made my way to downtown Concord. Luckily, I had 10 cents for the parking meter. I ran in and grabbed the CD. The owner was nice enough to unwrap and open the disc for me after I purchased it, as he could see the glimmer of excitement in my eyes. He knew that I was running back to my car to listen to it. And indeed, I did just that. You know that feeling you get when you’re scratching off a lottery ticket, hoping that you won something, and then you see that you matched three numbers to win $20, that’s how I felt. Goose pimples covered my skin even though it was about 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I had the windows down and blared my new CD like I didn’t have a care in the world. It was amazing!
As a teacher, I am fortunate enough that I get to experience a similar excitement every August when school begins. The first day of school is filled with fun, joy, excitement, and a bit of nervousness, for me and the students. The students come to school all dressed up in new clothes and brand new sneakers or shoes with a fancy new backpack on their back like they are ready to take on the world. It’s so much fun to begin a new school year.
One of the many things I love about The Beech Hill School is that we don’t start school like most every other school in the country with full days, jam-packed with classes and work. No, we ease our students back into school with a purpose. We have a half-day orientation program for all students on the Wednesday prior to Labor Day Weekend. It’s all about getting the students excited for the start of a new school year along with the opportunity to meet their new classmates or hang out with old friends. The schedule for the day is very low-key and stress free.
In the fifth grade, I started our morning with a fun name game before sharing the fifth grade ways with my new students. I talked about upcoming field trips and the always exciting Marble Jar and Marble Parties. The hit of the morning, of course, was meeting our class pet, Beans the hamster. We then played another game before I introduced the students to the Dialogue Journal. I talked about this cool new tool I’m using in the classroom this year. It’s a great way for me to learn more about the students in a more informal, ungraded way. The first entry they completed in class yesterday was their introduction to me. I wanted them to tell me anything and everything they thought I should know about them as students and people: How do you learn best? What are your hobbies? What’s your favorite subject in school? What’s your least favorite subject in school? What’s your favorite movie and book? They really got into this activity. One student wrote almost two pages, and would have continued had we not needed to transition into our next task. Today, I responded to their journal entries with a letter back to them. It was so much fun reading all about what they had to tell me. I have an amazing class filled with thoughtful, creative, and excited students. We are going to have an awesome year together!
Then, after the students wrote in their Dialogue Journals, we took a short break for snack. During this time, the students chatted with one another as they learned about their classmates and some of the things they have in common. Many of the students love animals and talked about their various pets. Following snack, the students decorated their super hero capes. Quick back story on this activity. I wear a teaching cape and refer to my students as super heroes, as they are super in every way. So, each year, I have them decorate super hero capes that they can wear in the classroom if they so desire. Last year, I had one student who wore his cape at various times throughout the year. So cool! The students brainstormed their super hero name, symbol, and power, as they transformed a plain cape into something super awesome. They had so much fun sharing their thoughts and ideas with their peers as they creatively decorated their capes. Super hero theme music played in the background while they worked. After the students finished decorating their capes and cleaning up the classroom, I had each of them share their super hero name and power with the class. I then wrapped up the day by reminding them of what they need to bring with them on Tuesday, our first official day of school, and fielding any final questions they had. All of my students left the school that day excited to return on Tuesday and happy about being in the fifth grade. It was amazing!
That’s what the first day of school should be like for all students and schools. Every school should have an Orientation Day that gets students excited for the year to come without the stress of working or listening to teachers and administrators drone on and on about the rules and expectations of the school or classroom. Imagine if every school began with a short Orientation Day that left students feeling super pumped to return for the first full day of school. Wouldn’t that be something? While I realize that different schools have different ways of doing things, a fun Orientation Day just makes sense to me. Start school early if need be in order to fit the day in. Provide students a chance to get to know their new classmates and teachers and get excited about school. Talk about some of the cool activities and projects the students will be doing in a fun and stress-free manner. It’s a short day that doesn’t require much of our students. If you’re reading this entry and your school doesn’t begin a new year with an Orientation Day, talk to your administrators and try to bring about a change for next year. You won’t be disappointed, trust me.
Click here to learn more about Dialogue Journals.
Click here to view more pictures from Orientation Day in my fifth grade classroom.