Thursday, September 1, 2011

My Fourth Very First Day of School

So what did I learn today, today on my very first day of school? Well, I guess this is really my second, well my third, fourth very first day of school if we are measuring life on a timeline. Anyways,  I have to admit that I don't feel I learned anything dramatic or life changing about my students or about the world, but I learned something perspective altering about myself. I have never been around normal students. I have never been in a class with people who have trouble. I have never before experienced average. 

On my very first day of school ever, I went to Holy Trinity Episcopal School in Melbourne, Florida, wearing a green plaid jumper and white Oxford shirt likely paired with black Mary Janes as my mother was fond of dressing me in. It is in this outfit that I spent the next ten years of my life, at a school where 90% of my friends were the children of either doctors or business owners. As far as I know, every one of the twenty nine other students I shared those years with has been college bound. 

My second very first day of school was at Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High School where I was one of fifty students who graduated with an International Baccalaureate diploma and a load of AP credits. At the time, I had become quite a fashionable little surfer girl, so I am sure I was rocking some sort of too short shorts, volcom t-shirt, and skate shoes. The entire time I was there I was not only in accelerated academic classes, but my choice of elective was at times more difficult than my actual classes. Let me put it this way, my senior year I was an International Science and Engineering Fair Delegate. I graduated with IB, AP, NHS, and a weighted GPA of something outrageously unnecessary like a 4.7. 

My third very first day of school was at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland. By this time I was like most college girls, alternating between sweats and college t-shirts and cute dresses, depending on the day of the week. While starting my studies as an Environmental Engineer, and transferring all around the academic realm of higher educational fields, I found what I wanted to do. I graduated with a double major in English and Environmental Earth Science. It was during this experience that I found something more important than school, I found out how to be truly passionate for myself. I found my love of teaching through the university's outdoor leadership program. And so I'm here today,today on my fourth very first day of school.

I arrived very early, dressed in a sleek and simple black skirt, yellow top, and my favorite grey sweater, to pick our class up from the gym. There I stood, on the other side of the wall, they were looking at me, I was looking at them, they were watching me. As I walked them to our room, a dress code violation nightmare of blue plaid skirts, shorts, too many bracelets, oxford shirts, Nike sneakers, and slacks, I realized something, but I'm not entirely sure how to explain it. All that I can really comprehend is that by the end of that class I realized that I had no idea how hard the things that in my experience seem to be so simple, can be so hard for a student who struggles, a student who was not as privileged and lucky, no, as blessed as I have been. I have a distinctly different comprehension, a distinctly different perception than these students. This I think will be my greatest challenge.

From our teaching instructors, we've been told a lot lately that our students will struggle with this our students will struggle with that. I learned today that I do not even know what the word struggle means. I have never struggled, not with anything. Things have been hard for me, but more because I chose to make them hard on myself. My fear now is how can I teach an individual who's experience and reality I have no comprehension of?; Yes, I have been a seventh grader, yes I have been in middle school, but I have never been a struggling seventh grader. I have never been a struggling student. 

With this as a realization, I hope that something is said about my aptitude for success or at least my desire to be challenged. The class I found myself most drawn to today, my first day of school on the other side of the wall, was the class I have been warned will be my hardest class. Because I saw them struggle, and they kept going. I hope that I will be able to do the same, I will be able to keep going. 

I do not intend for this to be my last very first day of school. 


  1. Margaret,
    I'm a bit concerned that you view yourself as never been around "normal" students, never experienced average, never faced a struggle...these statements can be viewed as quite loaded, judgmental and possibly condescending. As you enter the unfamiliar, you might want to open yourself to the similarities you share, rather than the differences.

  2. To Kate -
    I hope you look back at this blog and read this comment. I know Margaret, and I taught her for two years while she was going through the elite IB program at Cocoa Beach. She is accurate in her statements. She is NOT condescending nor judgmental.

    Somehow, it has become "okay" for people to discuss disadvantages they have had and how they find it difficult to relate to the norm because they grew up in communities where everyone was disadvantaged. However, people are criticized for acknowledging that they come from so-called privileged backgrounds, which ironically are usually just middle class backgrounds where middle-class values are promoted. When did accepting and acknowledging middle-class values become elitist, anyway?

    The students in the IB program were (and still are) the top students in the district. They are hand-picked, intelligent, and high-achievers. That was Margaret's world. She should neither be ashamed of her background, nor apologetic for it.

    Margaret's acknowledgment of her background actually demonstrates she is well-grounded and understands her past, both good and bad. It is obvious that she is aware that her past experiences and upbringing have left her unaware and sheltered from many of life's issues - issues that she is now becoming conscious of in a very personal way. This demonstrates great growth on Margaret's part.

    Margaret is one of those truly gifted, intelligent people who could have chosen any field and been successful (including teaching gifted students, college after earning specified degrees, and/or becoming a scientist). However, Margaret has chosen to teach - to teach disadvantaged children. We, as a society, are very lucky to have people
    of Margaret's caliber willing to give back to our communities via teaching. Instead of earning a six figure salary, Margaret is giving a six figure education to children. Only people who truly care and are committed to making our world a better place do this.

    Instead of criticizing Margaret for her background, which is exactly as she described, applaud her for being a caring person who willingly serves others.