Secrets of a 9th Grade English Teacher obout the First Day of School and Beyond by Suzanne McLain Rosenwasser

This will be the 25th time I’ve started high school, counting my years as a student and those of a 9th grade teacher; and though I’ve taught every grade from 7th-12th, it is 9th graders, I choose to teach. I’ve taught thousands of 13 to 15 year olds and will share at least 180 hours with about 150 more once the 09-10 school begins. So I have some advice to these rising 9th graders ~ things to warn you about from my perspective up there at the front – I’m the English teacher who’s been at the school forever. So here we go. As we start the first hour on the first day, a group of you will shuffle into my room like sleepwalkers, falling into the nearest desk. Some of you will walk in dazed, as if this couldn’t be happening now; you’ll stop and wonder what to do next. More than a few of you will burst through the door full of high school, ready for it, tripping over it, not lost for a moment. On the first day, I’ll be amazed at how many of you actually hear me say “take any seat”. About three of you will just stand there after I’ve repeated “take any seat” a few more times; one of you will look right at me and ask if there is assigned seating. Of those still standing, one won’t hear my reply. Another among you will be wearing an offensive graphic t-shirt, like the student last year whose tee had enormous FU letters on the front. I will tell this year’s offender to go into the walk-in closet and turn the tee inside out. The student will say: “It stands for Furman University.” I’ll reply: “It stands for ‘Turn it inside out’ to me. “

There will be girls among you whose outfits go far beyond the school’s “Dress Code Don’ts”. Large areas of skin extending from your rib-cage to below your navel will prompt me to ask you to put on your hoodie or go to the office to don the sweatpants handed out in such situations. Three minutes past the bell, one female straggler will breeze past me saying she absolutely loves the cute flats I’m wearing in the total belief that her approval will make my day. A few late boys will enter the room while playing haky-sac. One will stop, turn, and report that I have taught his sibling. I’ll be asked “to share a pound for that”. The OCD girl in the first seat, middle row is frantically searching her backpack for what she thinks is her lost agenda. For the next 39 minutes, I will hand out forms for subscriptions to school publications, bodily injury insurance applications for athletes, the codes and consequences for infractions requiring discipline, state-free-lunch applications, bus riders’ rules and my class syllabus. Some of you will make great efforts to appear to be listening; at least one won’t try at all, and a few of you will be furiously writing down every word. I may have to ask one girl, probably in the back, to stop polishing her nails. Later, I will contend with another student over his loudly Rap-ringing, cell phone. These moments will call for the appearance of my “don’t mess–with-meface,” the employment of which I must chose judiciously. If I go too far, lips will curl all around the room, and at lunch I will be one of the faculty dogs spoken of with venom. However, the look is a delicate balance because if my dagger-look isn’t piercing enough, you’ll know I don’t have the power it takes to make

something so phenomenal as learning happen. Hence, I could be scrambling for your attention all year. It is the first day, so I decide to approach the cosmetic and cell phone situations with a less, class-invasive approach. I stand at each offender’s desk while I continue to discuss the syllabus. I point to the intrusive item, talking all the while about homework completion and bi-weekly grammar quizzes. I do not move from that spot until what I want to disappear is gone. This technique will only work in the first few days of school, before the showboating in any of you gets the courage to take stage. During the next days, I will do my absolute best to lure you into a rhythm that hums with reading stories, writing words, and exchanging ideas. I will gradually morph into the kind, instructive, and empowering teacher I strive to be by showing you my heart, and asking for a glimpse of yours in return. I will avoid your groans when I start a grammar lesson, and I will pretend to strangle a chosen one of the incessant talkers, having already established that you’re the one who’ll play along with me this year. Let me thank you ahead of time for the use of your good humor in the spontaneous scenes I create to recapture the class from the distracters who threaten to take the learning away. However, make no mistake about this: I will have to don my mean suit from time to time, but I will promise you that I’ll do so responsibly and never become a screaming Banshee or that English teacher you had once before. Trust this: I chose to teach you because I like who you are; you’re on the cusp of one of the most impressionable memories of life - high school. I will question

my teaching choice at times, but I will continue to remember that I chose you because you’re still close enough to childhood to touch it; but it’s not as close as the next journey. I like being at the door of the new world you’re entering. In that place, I hope to leave the wisdom of Homer, Shakespeare, Bradbury, Orwell; Dickinson, Cavafy ,Millay; Kingsolver, Gaines, and Tan. Then, weather-permitting, we’ll meet on the other side of that door, on the football field where I walked with the Class of 2009 this Spring and saw them go off to the future.

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