Social media is blowing up with first-day-of-school pictures and stories. Parents post their children smiling, from pre-school to high school, in new clothes or school uniforms, while trying to recreate poses from the previous years. Just like New Year’s Eve, the first day of a new school year is a time of rebirth, a chance to commit to renewed dedication, and optimistically profess ambitions that this year will be the best school year ever.
But as I enter my tenth year of teaching high school each new school year increasingly reminds me of another perennial holiday: Ground Hog Day. Actually, my experience is more reminiscent of the 1993 movie of the same name in which actor Bill Murray is caught in a comical fantasy where the same day – Ground Hog Day – repeats endlessly.
This week was my first week with students full-time. The previous week was filled with abbreviated classes; nothing more than meet-and-greets with kids to set expectations for the next 10 months. As I sat at my desk, I began to hear all the same stories I’ve heard every year for the past decade. There were the standard he-said-she-said arguments, unavoidable adolescent boyfriend/girlfriend infidelity drama, and the always entertaining, blown out of proportion, family/guardian misunderstandings. The only differences this year, just like previous years, were the students. Last year’s class had been replaced by this year’s class but their stories were all the same.
When I worked in corporate America, for 30+ years before I became a full-time educator, we referred to this type of scenario as, “same shit, different day.” Now I affectionately refer to the start of school as “Ground Hog Day,” because, like the movie, the kids repeat plenty of previous years’ antics each and every school day.
I believe talking with students about their lives and non-academic subjects is important, and I always try to build a rapport with as many of them, in every grade, as I can. Many are extremely introverted and never feel comfortable talking to their teacher. Others look for a soap box and something to act as a podium because they feel the need to speak at length (and loudly) about whatever is troubling them at that moment. Often, we have serious discussions about their lives, everything from college plans to emotional issues, and sometimes I am surprised (but always respectful of maintaining confidentiality) by what they are willing to tell me. As a dean in an inner-city school this helped me build trust with students who would give me a heads-up on upcoming fights or other juvenile indiscretions. And it’s also allowed me to stay in touch with many of my students after they graduate.
Like Bill Murray’s character in the movie who learned from repeating events how to make subsequent days better, I feel that by actively engaging with my students every year I become a better listener, confidant, and mentor. I am, however, still pursuing the Holy Grail of secondary education – “How do you motivate students to learn?” (hence the theme of this blog) – but I know that this will be the year I find it!