Friday, August 12, 2016

Two Words to Describe the First Day

Aching feet.

Tired, gravelly voice.

Mental fog.

Sore muscles.

And an exhaustion that strangely took up residence between my shoulder blades to radiate down my arms.

Sounds like I had a tough session at the gym or ran a tough race, right?

Who knew the first day of teaching would do this to me?

I've been surrounded by teachers my entire life (my grandpa was a principal, so technically it has been since birth), yet my understanding of all the work they put in was shallow at best.

Even my fingers ache as I type this. Last time they ached like this was after a late night typing my master's thesis. How is that possible after a day at school? I didn't type much yesterday.

I arrived at school just after 7 am, feeling the personal thrill of the first day of school for the first time in many years. I had my packed lunch and new mechanical pencils in my messenger bag and a new skirt around my waist. I bustled around the classroom, getting PowerPoints and video clips queued up, picking scraps up off the floor, and silencing my cell phone after thanking everyone for their Good Luck texts that had been flooding my phone for the past two days.

When the first student walked into the classroom, my stomach flipped in a slightly unpleasant way. I spent more summer hours than I'd like to admit preparing for that moment, and I never thought I'd feel so unprepared. People trust their kids' education to . . . me?

The bells began ringing. And bubbling students wandered in and out, temporarily filling row after row in the classroom.

My classroom.

Words fail me.

Three hours and forty-something minutes of teaching. An all-too-short 25 minute lunch. Then three hours and something more minutes of teaching. Fifteen minutes before my final class ended, the secretary walked into the classroom--my classroom--with flowers from my mom and sisters. That was the moment I felt the tired tears prick my eyes. How could they know that I had secretly hoped someone would send me flowers that first day.

And then the final bell rang. Kids scampered to practices, lessons, homework, and after school jobs. I gathered papers and planners, my computer,  and my almost empty lunch box and walked to the car.

I did it. I finished my first day.

The hours of the weekend are already filled. There's got to be time to sit on the couch and watch the Olympics with the family, and of course we'll clean the house on Saturday and go to Church on Sunday.

Mrs. Denton will also need to update her website and email parents and

For the almost 47 years that I've been alive and I haven't properly thanked all of the teachers in my life--thank you. Thank you for the countless hours you invested in me and currently invest in my children. Thank you for the hoarse voices and sore feet and long days. I had no idea how hard your job is, but now I do.

The two words I finally conjured to describe my feelings:

Exhausted joy


Joy-filled exhaustion

And I get the privilege of doing it again next week. I can't wait, but I really need some sleep first.


  1. Soon your vocal cords will be up to speed, you won't ache so much as you learn to relax a bit, and you will get in a grove. However, the take home stuff will still take hours of prep as will the grading. My first year back at 44 was the most difficult for our family relationships especially with my spouse. There is a role shift happening for everyone. Expect it and soon everything will go with the flow. You are a great teacher. Your students are blessed to have you in the classroom.

  2. My little sister has been teaching for years, and she gets so much joy from it. But she says that the first week of every school year is nothing short of exhausting.

    Good for you, Jen! Those kids are in for a GREAT year.


  3. Whew - what a wonderful, exhausting first day! Good luck!

  4. Well said, as it pricked my memory of first days of teaching. I wish I could tell you each day gets easier. You will adjust somewhat to the aches and tired voice as your endurance for this new type of "work" increases. As all those faces you saw become individuals that you grow to know and love, your adrenalin for what you're doing soars and takes over and you will find yourself in the midst of something you love. It won't even seem like work. However, you will forever be tired . . . Until that last bell rings in May.

  5. No one knows what another goes through until one "walks in their shoes" and feel it for ourselves. You were born to be a teacher! Now lucky kids get the privilege of gleaning from you a breadth of knowledge that only you can give. I'm so proud of you! The flowers were a fun way for us to tell you how proud we are of you. ;)

  6. They are in for a great year, and I have a feeling you are, too.