When she came in today, she handed me a card. I immediately opened it, because, lets face it, I have no self control sometimes. What I saw inside made me start welling up with tears immediately.
This is what it said:
Thanks for being my 1st teacher.
The words, while simple, struck me in a strange way. I had never thought of myself as someone's first teacher. I knew that several of my students had not been to school before. I knew that several of my students came in to school with a different set of knowledge than we hoped they would due to their inexperience with school. I even knew that some of my students had been to pre-school, but this was their first experience with formal schooling.
But it never, ever occurred to me, not in a million years, that I was their first teacher.
The enormity of this responsibility is astounding. As I came to this realization, it weighed on me heavily. I have a responsibility to these students. More than I ever realized.
Yes, I know that, as a Kindergarten teacher, it is my job to set the foundation for the rest of their school career. The skills I teach my 24 (now 23) Kindergarten students will help set them up for success or failure throughout school. It is my job to make sure that my students leave Kindergarten armed with the skills they will need to tackle first grade and beyond. That right there is a huge responsibility.
But what that card implied was a responsibility even bigger than I imagined.
As their first teacher, it is my job to make sure they are hungry. I need to ensure that they need to learn more and more to satiate that hunger. I need to create a hunger that will never be satiated, no matter what happens to them in first grade, second grade, or even in middle or high school.
As their first teacher, it is my job to create that love of learning. That love of reading. I need to guide them towards the answers to their questions. Towards the books they won't want to put down. I have to show them that it's ok to love learning from the start. They will need that love when things get tough.
As their first teacher, it is my job to make them independent. They have to learn how to do things on their own, without the assistance of their parents. It's time to grow up and move on now that we're in school. I gently guide them towards independence while still allowing them to depend on me for guidance and support. I help them amaze their parents with all the wonderful things they are capable of doing.
As their first teacher, it is my job to make their first experience with school a positive one. It is my responsibility to make sure they go home each day with a skip in their step and a smile on their face. I need to ensure that they are excited to share what they learned in school that day with their families.
As their first teacher, I am their first experience with school. My attitude and how I handle myself can make or break that child's school experience. It may be for just this year, or it may be forever. I don't have any idea how much of an impact my words and actions may have on that child. I have to be careful what I say and how I say it. I need to nurture these students through their first experience with school. I need to make sure they want to come back each day. If they have a negative experience with school in Kindergarten, it does not bode well for the rest of their educational experience.
Though this responsibility falls on Kindergarten teachers, there is something we must remember. Each and every day can be a child's "first day" of school. Each and every one of you, whether you teach Kindergarten or seniors in high school, can be a child's "first teacher." YOU can be the one who makes a difference in the life of a child. YOU can change their educational experience from a negative one to a positive one.
No matter what you heard about that student from their previous teachers.
No matter what the other students tell you about that student.
No matter what kinds of behaviors that child has displayed in your classroom.
YOU can make the difference. YOU can allow that child to restart their educational experience within the confines of your classroom. You can be their cheerleader, urging them to do the best they can. You can teach them independence. You can help ensure they love learning and will never be satisfied with what they know, no matter what.
Tomorrow could be the first day of school for one of those students in your class. It could be the tough one who can't keep his hands to himself, or the little girl who feels like a failure because she struggles with learning to read. You can find that way to connect with them and make them successful. YOU can change their educational experience from a negative one to a positive one, and set them on a path to success.
Can you be a child's first teacher?