This is culture shock, in the best possible way. Yesterday was the first day of school with students, the day we anticipated in a week of meetings always focused and thinking about our kids. There was a lot of apologizing for being “under-resourced” and having a chaotic start, but in my teaching career, we had more resources here in Genoa on Day 1 than I ever had and less chaos than a mid January day.
“Happy First Day of School!” said the ever enthusiastic high school coordinator as she darted up the stairs. “Happy First Day of School!” she continued to every staff member, much like we’d say “Happy New Year!” or “Merry Christmas!” Excitement charged the air; instead of the gloomy dread that I’ve seen so often at this time, where teachers as well as students mourn the death of summer, there was an air of anticipation, like that of Christmas morning: our presents, the kids. And I absolutely could not wait to meet them after being told over and over: “You will love them.”
International Schools are a special treat. I really belong within this type of community, and I especially love how there are ages 3-18 in the same building. The little ones, so cute in their brightly-colored bookbags filled with fresh notebooks, pencil cases, and dreams. Many of my seniors came here for pre-school and were nurtured all the way up to college-bound young adulthood. Teachers and students filed into the window-lined gymnasium, views of hills and the palm and pine tree-laden grounds. Pre-K through seniors were lined up in neat rows, hugging their friends after a fun summer away. Parents climbed up to the balcony of the gym, snapping photos and taking videos on their cell phones. Eventually, the balcony filled so they spilled around the edges of the gymnasium, squeezing tighter and tighter. Almost our whole community together, enthusiastic voices blending over each other to create the white noise of a soccer stadium.
Then the director’s hand went up in the universal “Give me 5” request for silence. 2-3 seconds later, the entire room was hushed, all eyes on him. He welcomed everyone, introduced new teachers, and soon it was off to homeroom. Each secondary staff member is assigned 6 students to meet with every morning. The homerooms are all together in the same room with 2-3 other teachers where they can share the news of the day, handouts, and develop a mentoring relationship. I have a group of 11th graders, and I instantly fell in love with them. They were sweet, fun, focused, and eager to learn about their first year in the IB (International Baccalaureate) program.
Next, a 15 minute break for snack, where students have several choices to go throughout the campus before their next class. We missed periods 1-2 today due to the assembly and extended homeroom. Our school uses block scheduling, so most academic classes meet for 2 consecutive 40 minute blocks on a rotating schedule. I did not get to see my Grade 12 IB English seniors. But I did get to meet my Grade 11 IB English seniors next. There were 11, and we had great conversations as we got to know each other. And . . . yea, 11, not 34! I can’t get over that. When I needed everyone’s attention, I just had to give students a look and raise my hand or a gentle reminder to focus. That was my management. The rest was focus on academics and enjoy my students. With so few students in my classes, of course I’m going to be expected to give them a lot of attention, to know them extremely well, and to provide a lot of nurturing and support. I’ve always wanted to do this, but felt completely spread thin by the number of students I had and the jam-packed classes. This class was smaller than the class I teach at the college at home. And the students were just as eager to participate and focused on academics. Wow, wow, wow.
From college-focused and inquisitive Grade 11 straight to fresh from middle school and ultra adorable Grade 9. They brought in energy, enthusiasm, and a playful outlook on life, eager to begin the school year and reform from their “disruptive” ways in 7th grade. Welcome, my cherubs!
Whew, 4 40 minute blocks later, I was done with classes for the day. It was lunch time, and I had packed a lunch so I would not have to worry this first day. Off to my office (yeah, I have an office), where I sat down with my Humanities Mates, chatting about the day, our students, and getting excited for the year. As I ate my tuna sandwich, I gazed out the window towards the villa next door illuminated by that Ligurian Sun and felt sublime. There were signs all around me that I belong here. It was always meant to happen, and everything that happened in my life before led me to this moment, to my capability to take this leap and to appreciate and relish every moment of it.
At the end of the day, a new science teacher popped by the room, beaming. Having previously taught in inner-city London, he asked knowingly, “How did it go?” I looked at my office mate, another new teacher who worked in inner-city Boston. We both returned the beaming smile as I said, “Great! How about you?”
“It went swimmingly!”
Are we dreaming?
I have a lot of work ahead of me. I’m teaching 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12th grade English. Junior and Senior English is the IB program, with rigorous standards and assessment. I’ll be teaching yoga after school 2 days a week. I was asked to help chaperone the model UN club and escort students on the International Trips (Jordan, Netherlands, and Greece). I will be taking conversational Italian lessons on Tuesdays. I have lots of friends and family coming to visit. I still need to figure out how to set up my wireless Internet and where to buy an affordable pair of pumps. (You can’t walk around Italy in frumpy shoes, oh no way . . . I’ve been watching). But I am doing what I love. I am appreciated and supported. The IB coordinator keeps saying, “Have we told you how happy we are that you are here? We are just thrilled to pieces that you are here. Why did we have to wait so long to get you?”
My director said, “I am so happy to have you. We are so lucky we got you. I blindly trust you with everything. I know you will be great.”
And today at the end of class, an 8th grader said to me, “Thank you for the lesson.”