To My Incoming Ninth-Grade Students on the Occasion of Our First Day Together

We’re going to be meeting each other for the first time today. I will greet you at the door and shake each of your hands. I will ask you how your day is going or how you’ve liked your classes so far, and you will likely walk past me without making eye contact while muttering the word “good” or grunting something that might be “fine”. After the bell rings, I will introduce myself, take attendance, and get you seated where I want you. Then I will challenge you to brainstorm more meaningful or more descriptive responses than good, fine, and ok. I will make you write them down, and I’ll make you share them with the class. Hopefully you’ll have a laugh, hopefully you’ll have a moment where you feel smart, and hopefully you’ll learn something from your classmates. Tomorrow I will meet you at the door again. I will shake your hand and ask you another question, but this time I will challenge you to give me a better answer. Good, fine, and ok simply won’t be good enough any more.

And so it will begin.

At this point, I suppose I could give you a laundry list of my obligations to you and your responsibilities to me and to the class. I could discuss the syllabus, the readings, the grammar rules, and the vocab words. I could tell you about writing and public speaking and projects and discussions. But I won’t. There will be plenty of time for that later. Let’s leave it at this: If you show up every day and give your best effort, you’ll be fine. It’s all I’m ever going to expect of you, and it’s exactly what you can expect of me. Just try your hardest and the rest will take care of itself.

With that said, there are some things that I am going to try my hardest to remember this year…

I will do my best to remember that you are starting in a new school today, that everything is vast, strange, and confusing. There are classrooms whose numbers run out of sequence and offices known only by foreign-sounding names and unfamiliar acronyms.

I will do my best to remember that you are surrounded by a sea of unfamiliar faces – hundreds of teachers and thousands of students that you’ve never seen before – and that you may go the entire day without ever seeing your closest friend that you’ve gone to school with your entire life.

I will do my best to remember that this is a time of change and transition for you. You’ve not only left behind your old school, but you may be choosing to leave behind old sports, old activities, and even old friends.

I will do my best to remember that you are getting your first taste of new subjects, new extra-curriculars, and new expectations.

I will do my best to remember that even though you still look like children, you are desperate to be treated like adults.

I will do my best to remember that your life right now is a maelstrom of anxiety and uncertainty.

And I will do my best to remember that you likely have no idea what maelstrom means.

Unfortunately, there will be times that I forget these things. There will be times when I am impatient. There will be times when I confuse you, frustrate you, and even let you down. I can promise you that whenever these things happen, I will give you my heartfelt apologies. They will likely be little consolation.

But let me ask you this…

Would it make you feel any better if I told you that, even though I’ve been here for over ten years now, there are offices in new places and teachers in new classrooms and I’m still trying to figure it all out?

Would it make you feel any better if I told you that my closest friend at this school was moved to a different building over the summer, that this is the first time in my career that I’ll be starting a school year without him?

Would it make you feel any better if I told you that I recently had to give up coaching two sports that I love? That when the bell rings at 2:37 today I am going to walk out of this building feeling lost, confused, and alone because I am not on the practice field and not surrounded by my friends?

Would it make you feel any better if I told you that I’m taking classes and being a student myself for the first time in over ten years? That today’s my first day (night) of school, too?

Would it make you feel any better if I told you that, as much as I’m going to try to talk to you like adults, I can still be a big, nerdy kid?

Would it make you feel any better if I told you that my life is the foggiest and most uncertain it’s ever been since I started teaching?

Would it make you feel any better if I told you that a maelstrom is a violent whirlpool or a mess of confusion and turbulence?

For whatever it’s worth, I understand the situation you’re in right now better than I ever have before. I’m already walking in your shoes – a lesson we’ll discuss extensively when we read To Kill a Mockingbird next semester – and hopefully I can see things through your eyes. I’ll do my best to be tolerant, understanding, and supportive. Hopefully you can do the same for me.

I’m already running late, so I need to wrap this up. I hope you were able to sleep last night. I know I wasn’t. I hope you wake up excited and ready to face the challenges that lie ahead.

I’ll be waiting for you at the door.

Sincerely,

Mr. Alexander

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