Thursday, September 09, 2010
The Giganticness Of Kindergarten
I've sent my own daughter off to her first day of school 12 times, and while there's still a special feeling about the day, it's lost the giddy nervousness, helped along no doubt by the fact that she's only attended two schools -- her cooperative preschool and her current K-12 school. The facilities, classmates and even in some cases the teachers are already familiar. With less to fear and more to anticipate, it's an easy move to send her off for her first day.
Make no mistake, I still cried as I have for the past 9 years during convocation when the entire 550 student body, from 5 to 18 years-old, gather together to listen to speeches from the head of the parent association, the head of the school, and a representative of the each the 5th, 8th and 12th grades. Usually its our Head of School Frank Magusin who sets me off with his talk about building community, but this year I made it all the way through to the senior speaker who moved me, perhaps, because we're now only 4 years away from the day that my own daughter or one of her classmates will be standing there, on the first day of her last year of high school.
In recent years, I've stood with the crowd of parents ringing the students who are arranged up front, but this year I fought my way up to a position where I could watch the kindergarteners seated as always in the very front row. For the first time in my 9 years as a preschool teacher, there were two of my now former students sitting in that group. They both spotted me and waved, tightly, a little self-consciously, wanting to stay focused on the challenging task of kindergarten. We've been part of one another's lives for the past 3 years, more than half their time on the planet, and I'm excited about the prospect of being able to keep up with them as they work and play their way through elementary school.
It occurred to me that I'd done nothing as a teacher to prepare them for sitting in a single spot listening to speeches for 45 minutes, yet they managed it brilliantly, perhaps the most difficult thing they'll do all year. There was definitely a little glazing over during the adult speakers. They perked up when the 5th grader took the podium, and they took notice of the whoops that came from the back of the room when my daughter's classmate, Kashev, took the stage as representative of the middle school, and they noticed the rowdy cheers that that erupted when the senior stepped up to the mic. But mostly they sat there lost in their own thoughts and sensations, barely looking at the speakers, but by turns studying the crowd, their classmates, and making secret eye-contact with Teacher Tom. I love that I got to do that.
Later, when I got home, I found videos and photos posted on Facebook of several more of my former students on their first day. I don't remember that from last year. I probably just missed it in my social networking ignorance, but I won't miss it again. It gave me the sense that I was a part of it. I thought back on when I first met them as 2-year-olds, some brash, some shy, some silly from excitement, others frozen into silence by suspicion. I saw a little of all of those things yesterday, and while they can hardly remember the specific lessons, I'm confident that they -- and their parents -- know they have the skills to settle in, to get busy, to make new friends.
The next time I see them, I'll ask questions like, "Isn't kindergarten a lot better than preschool?" and they'll agree. Or if they come back to visit Woodland Park, which many of them will, I'll ask, "Doesn't the preschool seem smaller than you remember it?" and they'll answer that it does, perhaps following it up with a story about the giganticness of their kindergarten.
When I arrived to pick up my daughter at the end of the day, I first made a quick swing through the kindergarten area and saw both of "my" girls again. They looked exhausted.