The first day of school always brings anxiety for Ms. B. She never knows the right way to connect with a room of new sixth graders. By the second day, she begins to settle into the groove of the class. By the second week, she knows her students. By the second month, she is able to connect with them. But that first day is always the most awkward of the year. Far more uncomfortable even than the day of sex ed the students will suffer through in March.
This year, Ms. B is extra apprehensive because she has a student in her class who is new to the school, a rarity in their small town. The week before, a counselor talked to her about the new boy who had been mute since a traumatic event as a baby. She was told how before this year he had been homeschooled because of his disability, but just about a year ago he had started to speak and his parents had decided to send him to school.
She pours her anxiety over the boy and the rest of her new students into making a plan. She’s made it through 11 first days so far, but this year she is determined to make it memorable, in at least a vaguely positive way.
A moment after the morning bell rings and the kids settle into their seats, she starts with a classic, “Hello class!”
The only responses are mumbles.
“I know that this is your first day, and I know that it is probably a lot to take in, but I want to know what you all want out of my class this year. So please take a moment and think it out. I’ll take volunteers to share in a few minutes.”
To Ms. B’s surprise, the students moan. They roll their eyes and stare at the ceiling or worse, their laps, where she knows their phones lie in wait.
As promised Ms. B asks people to share their desires just a minute later. A few students’ hands shoot into the air. Ms. B instantly recognizes the students connected to the hands as future teachers’ pets.
They all explain how they want to learn and have fun. Not one individual or interesting idea is shared. Ms. B starts to think that her plan to start the year off in a meaningful way has absolutely backfired, but then she catches sight of a small arm, half raised at the back of the room.
She knows exactly who that hand belongs to. His hand reassures her.
She smiles at him warmly.
“Yes,” she says as she points to him.
He clears his throat and shifts in his seat. What feels like forever passes before he manages to share, in a shaky and quiet voice, “I just want to be heard this year.”
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