Monday, August 4, 2014

“It is strange that what seems at first alien becomes second nature in the blink of an eye.” ― Sara Sheridan, The Secret Mandarin

August is upon us, which means back to school cannot be far behind.  Kids everywhere are beginning to wonder which teachers they will be assigned to for certain subjects, hoping they will get the "nice" or the "easy" teachers, or at least one they know.  Anxiety in students and teachers and parents will be mounting this month as the first school day draws nearer.  What can you do as a parent and as a teacher to help assuage the anxieties of that first day?

If you are a parent with a very anxious child, I urge you to make an appointment with the guidance counselor before the school year begins. If your child is going to a different school from the previous year, you should also set up a tour of the building.  Kids fear what we ALL fear- the unknown.  When I taught at North Allegheny Intermediate for 35 years, a meeting was held for the incoming ninth grade parents and students. (NA had 3 middle schools that fed into the Intermediate HS) Information was dispersed about courses and class times and general procedures, and then students could walk around through the building to "get their bearings" a bit before the rush of that important first day.  I recall that when I would be in my classroom putting up bulletin boards or organizing my papers for the start of school,  many students would stop by the school building for a second or third tour of the building.  They would peek in my room in a shy manner, perhaps to ask a question, and I would tell them how much they were going to enjoy being a part of our school.  I would explain an easier way to figure out the building than by looking at the map in their hands, and after these sometimes brief or sometimes long conversations, some of the anticipated terror of the first day was dissipated. For these students, just by being at the new building once or twice, the dread and fear of the unknown diminished.  If you are a teacher with friends who have anxious children, please steer them in the right direction to help their child. 

If you are a teacher, you can welcome these lost and wary students when you see them in the halls, both before school begins while you are working in your classroom, and on that first overwhelming day. Position yourself at your classroom door, and paste a welcoming smile on your face.  You will be able to spot the lost and on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown student instantly by the look on his face!  Be kind and point him in the right direction.  Tell him it is all right to be late on this first day.  Remember that you are an ambassador of the entire school during this short encounter,  and for this student, you may represent the entire school in one brief moment.  Be sure to be positive.  I never thought too much about these kinds of moments, but one year, I helped a ninth grade girl who was lost and crying.  I told her she had no reason to cry; in fact, I would accompany her to her next class and explain the situation to her new teacher, and that if she insisted on crying, she would ruin her perfectly beautiful eyelashes.  The next year on the first day, that young lady was in my English class, and she told me that she and her mom had requested me as a teacher because of that moment of kindness.  I was just doing my job in a positive manner.  Finding out that tidbit of information was a real bonus!  I have always believed that you can never know how much a small kindness can affect another person.

In closing, August is a month of pre-school angst.  If you are a parent or a teacher, you have the ability to help new students to become familiar with their new school.  Once they are there a week, all will be OK, but give them the guidance and help they need before that big first day.

Rittman Publishing, LLC

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