Lately, I’ve been thinking about my first day of middle school. I had heard at my new middle school they put 6th graders in trashcans. Would that happen to me? Was I wearing the right clothes? Would the other kids make fun of me?
My mother dropped me off in front the imposing unfamiliar school. Standing on the front steps was a large group of future classmates, the majority were strangers. I had not yet learned to conquered social anxiety, so I was shaking like a leaf. I stepped up on to the curb when the unthinkable happened: my lunch bag (which I had been balancing on top of my binder) fell to the ground and spewed its contents everywhere. I spent the next five minutes, face completely red, chasing after my sandwich, apple, and juice box while my new classmates watched. I finally saw a friendly face that I knew from elementary school. I ran up, out of breath and asked “Oh my gosh, did you just see that?”
“Yup.” They responded. “And we’re all really grateful that you just had the most embarrassing moment of the day. Now our first days won’t seem so bad!”
I keep having traumatic flashbacks to that moment as I contemplate today.
You see, I’m going back to middle school. Not as a student, but as an educator. A school librarian. I’ve mused on the fact that I have many of the same worries 6th-Grade-Lexie had. I’ve heard that the students give the new teachers a really hard time. Will that happen to me? Do I have the right clothes? Will the other teachers be nice? At least I don’t have to worry about being stuffed in a trashcan! (I hope.)
So teachers have first day jitters too! Who knew?
What’s a girl to do? Well, like any good middle school student, I asked my friends what they thought.
Since my friends know how to get right to the point, they started out with teacher fashion advice:
“You will find that high fashion isn’t school dress code friendly. My rule of thumb this year is going to be ‘if you think it may be too short/tight/low cut, just don’t wear it,’ because even if it isn’t, you will stress about it all day.”
“I almost always wear pants. You can’t imagine how many times you find yourself crawling under a cabinet to plug something in, climbing on a chair to get to books, or just otherwise doing things that are dirty. Which leads to the next main fashion point — make sure everything is washable!”
“I do the bend and stretch test in front of a mirror.
1. Bend over in front of a mirror. If you can see down your shirt, they can.
2. Squat down back to mirror. If you see a crack, they will see it too.”
I wasn’t too worried about all of that. After all, I’ve been a children’s librarian for almost 10 years. My entire wardrobe consists of items that let me do “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes” in storytime without exposing anything important.
But what kind of supplies would I need?
“Treats for bribing!”
“Snacks. For you, and for the kids who are hungry.”
“Kids never have paper or pencils. I don’t care how awesome their parents are, they run out. Have extras. Buy staples and tape in bulk, you’ll go through a ton. Folders, folders, folders.”
“Tide To Go and a great school bag. Also, take a multivitamin.”
I made a list and ransacked Target. I’m good on supplies. Now how do I connect with the kids?
No one put me in the trash can. I survived mostly intact. I made lifelong friends with those strangers standing in front of my school. I learned valuable lessons that I’ve carried for the rest of my life.
“What I remember the most about my dad going back to school were coffee mugs and ties that were pop-culture and music related. It sounds tacky and kitschy, but I remember everyone always connecting with that stuff, pop culture as common ground or whatever.”
“Greet the kids in the morning! Don’t just hide in the library. Your students will feel more comfortable coming to you for questions if they know who you are.”
“Start a blog! Share your enthusiasm in a space where students will want to connect with you. Parents and teachers appreciate your online and after-hours resources, too. When your students see you blogging about the exciting things happening in the Library, they’ll want to stop by!”
“Go to PTO meetings and build good relationships with parents!”
And finally proving that “once a teacher, always a teacher”, some of the best advice came from my high school Science Teacher:
“Bring tissues, a kind heart, patience, a stern face for the first week, hands to place on hips, snacks to put in your desk (some for you and some for a kid who didn’t eat breakfast or lunch) and a plate of brownies for the teachers in your grade level.”
After taking all of that advice to heart, I again reflected back on my 6th grade year of middle school. No one put me in the trash can. I survived mostly intact. I made lifelong friends with those strangers standing in front of my school. I learned valuable lessons that I’ve carried for the rest of my life.
So here’s to everyone (students and teachers) getting ready for their first day of school: Have a wonderful year. May you survive your first day without spilling your lunch and have enough snacks and school supplies to get you through the year!
Lexie Robinson Austin is one of the few born and raised Huntsville natives. She is a stepmom to one, a librarian to many, a reader of books, and baker of cookies. She likes ridiculously impractical shoes and the color pink.