The first two weeks of school are so important. During this time students have to learn about their new classmates, new teachers, new routines and expectations. Teachers have to learn about their new students, new parents, new colleagues, new technologies and new curriculum initiatives. A new community has to be built, team spirit established and a sense of excitement and anticipation for the year of learning ahead. If not carefully managed and orchestrated it can be a stressful and overwhelming time for all involved. I find myself today, at the end of my first two weeks of school, happy, hoarse, exhausted and enthused about the year ahead.
My teaching partner, Rick Joseph, and I share 54 kids and together we make the “Joberts56”. Having both 5th and 6th graders, each year we lose half of our class as they move up a grade and gain 27 new students. A priority for us at the start of each year is to help the class bond and form their own unique identity. We launched this process by showing the students Blindsight. This is a documentary detailing the journey of six blind Tibetan students as they climb a mountain in the shadow of Everest. We encouraged the kids to write down their thoughts as they watched the movie and during a follow up debrief the Joberts56 of 2012-2013 was born! Our students were able to clearly articulate what was important to them as a group and the mindset that will guide them throughout the year. It didn’t take them long to graphically represent those notions and by day 2 we had a class T-shirt design.
The big eye on the front of the shirt signifies my students’ determination to not just be observers in life but to really see the world around them, think about what it means and wonder how they can make a positive and significant impact on it. The logo “Climb Your Own Everest” on the back reminds them that they need to take risks, overcome their fears and face challenges head on in order to achieve their true potential. Pretty cool, huh?
On day 3 Rick and I shared our progress with parents during Welcome Back Night and attempted to express our individual philosophies and aspirations for the year. It was an opportunity for parents to put names to faces and be assured that we will love and nurture their children as well as guide them academically. A parent volunteered to get the class T-shirt organized and printed and by some wonderful miracle she had all 56 shirts ready for our three day camp during week 2 of school. Getting 216 students, sixty some volunteers and eight teachers to camp on the seventh day of school has been a labor of love for several months. Nancy B, school secretary, and Cindy B, Community Service Officer, did a tremendous job of preparing this trip, getting all the necessary transportation, medication and documentation together. They organized parent volunteers, accommodation, travel groups and without their dedication it simply could not have happened.
So on the seventh day of school I found myself 125 miles away from home at Camp Michindoh, watching a group of my students try their hands at archery. I wasn’t participating because I’d never done it before and didn’t want to look incompetent in front of both new parents and students. One of my sixth graders invited me to join in and when I declined she said, “We are the Joberts56 Mrs R, we don’t just observe, we go beyond our comfort zone and get involved. Climb your own Everest.” Astounded and inspired how could I not get my Catniss on and step up? The next few days were spent canoeing, building shelters, making fires, climbing rock walls and handling a variety of snakes, frogs , spiders and cockroaches. The mantra “Climb Your Own Everest” was used repeatedly to encourage and challenge all of us, students and teachers alike to achieve what we never thought possible. It even began to impact our fabulous parent volunteers as they too stretched themselves and found themselves beyond their comfort zones during their three day marathon event as chaperones. Their commitment, leaving behind work and families, was another major factor in making camp happen. It also provided us with the opportunity to begin to get to know each other and form relationships that will be crucial to the success of this school year. By day 10 of school, the Joberts56 community was born!
Did the first two weeks go off without a hitch? No. The schedule changed after distribution of over two hundred paper copies, our T-shirts were not quite what we originally designed and a student spent three days at camp with only the clothes he was standing up in because his bag was left on the bus. Instead of whining and complaining everybody demonstrated solidarity, flexibility and understanding which enabled us to sail over these small bumps in the road. I’m secure in the knowledge that we will overcome future obstacles on our journey together because of the people I travel with: amazing students, supportive parents, dedicated office staff and passionate educators.
During the next two weeks of school my students will face a battery of district mandated assessments. I know these will provide me with a snapshot of their academic abilities but the knowledge gleaned from these tests cannot possibly compare to what we have learned about ourselves and each other during the first two weeks of school.