It was about 10:15 the night before my first day at Westminster school. I was worried — should I wear a tie, no tie? Where were my khaki pants? I knew this pent up anticipation was overblown, but the school day would still arrive much too quickly. I was terrified I would wake up late and begin my descent on the slippery slope to failure. Despite my fears, I woke up bright and early, had no problem deciding what to wear, and made myself a breakfast fit for a champion. I arrived exactly one half hour before class and waited nervously in the office for someone to say hello. There isn’t much going on at Westminster at ten to eight in the morning, but I could hear the principal and the secretary talking in another room. Time stood still as I reflected the moment. Memories of my own experiences in elementary school flooded my mind. There were teachers that I loved and maybe one or two that left me with some unpleasant memories. I pondered what Mrs. Day would be like, how she would teach, and how I would interact with the students.
When I met her, I knew immediately that we would get along just fine. We took a quick tour around the school. There were so many names of teachers — I remember thinking, how am I going to remember them all, let alone the names of the kids in the class. Mrs. Day asked me to help her prepare breakfast for the kids — Westminster provides breakfast for each student, assuring that they’ve all had something to eat before they are expected to learn. I opened a box of apple juice and began to pour. Juice dribbled out in all directions. I’m not sure why I felt nervous, but I remember thinking sarcastically, what a great way to start things out: the very first thing I’ve been asked to do and I make a mess. No big deal though, Mrs. Day grabbed me rag and I cleaned things up. I finished pouring drinks while she cut bananas and muffins. Next we headed out for supervision and then back into class when the bell rang.
I liked watching the control Mrs. Day possessed over her class. She confidently instructed and the students listened. She identified which students weren’t paying attention and called them to order. She maintained the flow by not only identifying children individually by name but also by row; thereby calling a few students to action at a time. She also utilized their birth months when selecting a group of students to go back for second helpings. I liked the efficiency and order and how the students knew the routine and listened patiently for their turn.
The smart board lesson on how to write a story was fantastic. First the class listened and watched as a story was read and illustrated. Following that, Mrs. Day discussed with the class the formal elements of a story writing. I tried to watch which students were answering most of the questions, and while there were a few that consistently answered and a few that almost never answered, Mrs. Day did a good job of balancing out who she called on for responses. It was clear that she had given this lesson before and was very well prepared. She is a master at the smart board.
It was about this time that hands began to raise to ask if they could go to the bathroom. It was very interesting how some kids got permission while others were told to wait. I wasn’t sure how to feel about making anyone wait, if they said they needed to use the bathroom I would have trusted them to go, but Mrs. Day had experience and knew who was to be trusted and who was trying… not to take advantage, but who might have been more likely to waste time in the hallways. One of the students who asked to go to the bathroom didn’t explain that it was because he was feeling ill. When he came back he sat with his head on the desk.
Mrs. Day asked me to mark some math homework, which I really enjoyed. It was something I could do rather than feeling awkward about wandering the classroom and just observing. I had finished marking most of the homework when suddenly Mrs. Day said to me, “Mr. Milner, would you please go get the caretaker, one of the students just threw up.” I looked over and sure enough it was the kid that hadn’t been feeling well. I thought, what a thing to happen on my first day! Luckily it was pretty mild compared to how it potentially could have been.
Later, the kids had a math test in which I helped by answering kids questions about what a specific question meant. My limited assistance felt a bit useless but clarifying exactly what a question was asking was enough to help most of the kids complete their answers. Mrs. Day asked me to go out in the hallway with one student in particular and go through the test with her. (I didn’t realize she was a she and not a he… apparently not an uncommon assumption). It was a bit sad to realize that this little girl had a very limited reading ability. In the hallway behind us a police officer was talking with a student. I was a bit shocked to see a police officer questioning a student in an elementary school.
I’m not going to say I didn’t enjoy my first day. I certainly felt it to be an interesting day and I’m very excited to be here. I definitely thought the kids were cute and nice. However, I did remember thinking that elementary school wouldn’t be my first choice. I also remember thinking the neighbourhood where the school is located makes a big difference in the kind of issues a teacher has to deal with on a daily basis. I was very impressed with Mrs. Day’s manner with the kids and her clearly well honed teaching skills. She made me feel very welcome and just before I left we discussed what I can do to take part in teaching a lesson with the smart board next week. I’m looking forward to it.