Loose Ends: Opening day in the classroom

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Dolly Viscardi
It has been a while since I met children in the doorway of my classroom for the first day of school. Retired from 23 years of teaching in elementary schools, I still miss a lot of things about the yearly opening day. This year I felt an especially sharp pang, as the brand new elementary school was readied for a mid-week start. Wednesday was the day for which most everyone has been waiting and, unlike the school supplies bought for the occasion, the newness will take more than a few days to wear off.
Like most kids, my school memories had such things as fire drills down the steep black metal fire escapes jutting from the second-story platform outside our fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms and chalkboards with erasers that needed to be cleaned by banging them together in a cloud of dust out on the platforms. Yet, it was the first-grader who threw up all over her teacher’s shoes and the principal whose stern demeanor kept us in line who fill my memories.
The significance of 12 first days of school looms large in that memory and the list of the things that I miss (as both a child and an adult) stand out clearly. Good first-day memories focus on the importance of new clothes and new school supplies. Those of us with multiple siblings thought the first day of school ranked up there with the holidays like Christmas and birthdays, as this was an occasion when hand-me-downs were not permissible. The yearly school supplies were laid in fresh no matter what your age, and each student got their own writing tablets or notebooks, yellow No. 2 pencils, one big fat eraser, scissors, and a 64-count box of crayons.
The class lists posted on the outside door of the school were thrilling reading. They were never up before the first day, so they signaled the grand dash in the hallway to check into the assigned classroom to see if everyone on the list had already made it to the classroom. The clean, white, wall water fountains were surrounded by kids who pretended they were thirsty, just to see who was in the other classrooms. Word of mouth carried the important news of what every person was wearing.
One never loses the feeling of newness on each school year’s first day, so being able to teach or learn in a brand-new building makes it even more exciting. It is a beautiful facility, with high-tech touches like Smart Boards, chairs that flex and bounce to match active students and a state of the art science lab. And while Meeker elementary students will be more than thrilled with the facilities, their long lasting first day of school memories will more than likely focus on the people (teachers and students alike) who spend their days in the new building.