The start of high school is a strange yet magical time. It is similar to arriving at the gates of Disney World.
Both seem so big, crowded, and even a little scary, but not scary enough to prevent you from entering. It is the kind of trepidation from not knowing what to do first or even wondering if you can do it all. High school has more people, more class choices, more clubs, and more sports teams than junior high. It is a time for exploration.
I remember thinking, “What should I do?” I could go to Fantasyland with creative writing classes and let my imagination fly away with Dumbo. Or, I could go to Adventureland, trying new sports, and visiting new and even exotic places. Or, I could go to Tomorrowland learning about new gadgets like computers and letting my learning travel to infinity and beyond! Or, I could do it all!
I remember getting my schedule in the mail and calling my friends. We compared schedules and wondered who else would be in our classes. Then, the first day of school arrived. The first time setting foot in the high school! I wandered around looking for my classrooms before the start of first period and trying not to look like a neophyte.
My daughter’s experience was quite different. While in eighth grade, she was able to walk from the junior high to the high school to get a ride home from me. Usually she walked through the front door, said hello to the secretary, and walked to my room. One or two times, she would be captured on film doing cartwheels in the hallway or using the elevator. Miss Lisa, our head of security, wondered who this young lady was until she saw the two of us together. That day, Miss Lisa laughed while telling me the story of the mystery gymnast of the hallways.
One rainy day, my daughter found an unlocked door, and she snuck in to avoid melting. However, a teacher stopped her in the hallway. My daughter described him as mean and scary. He stopped her, scowled at her, and asked her, “What are you doing here?”
She paused and nervously answered, “I am here to see my dad.”
“Who is your Dad?” Mr. B barked.
“Mr. W- W – Watros,” she stammered.
Suddenly, the door opened again and in walked an unsuspecting student. The teacher turned and questioned her as rapidly as a machine gun firing. My daughter saw her chance. She ran! Obviously, she was quite comfortable with knowing her way around the building.
When she told me the story, I knew the teacher had to be Mr. B., who is able to growl and glare a grizzly to whimpers. I also told her running, especially after giving my name, was not the brightest plan of action. Luckily, Mr. B also has a great sense of humor.
The big difference with her first day of high school, though, was freshman orientation. She had to come school one day in August to pick up her schedule, get her picture taken for the yearbook and I.D., pick up text books, and learn about activities and clubs. Almost every ninth grader was there. Smiles, giggles, and lots of loud chatter echoed through the hallways. Students, little siblings, and parents wondered the hallways trying to find the shortest route to get from first period to second period to third period, etc. Kids decorated their lockers with personal items of mirrors, magnets, and shelves. Plus, some kids found the locker was a good place to leave their textbooks until it was time to turn them in.
My daughter found some friends and promptly ditched her little brothers and me. As I watched her walk away, the Jimmy Buffett song, Fins began to play in my head:
Can’t you feel ‘em circlin’ honey?
Can’t you feel ‘em swimmin’ around?
You got fins to the left, fins to the right,
and you’re the only bait in town.
You got fins to the left, fins to the right,
and you’re the only girl in town.
I got a bad feeling. I began to realize that my little girl was growing up. I began to think, “Look at these teenage boys trolling for girlfriends. Which one will come to my house and see me cleaning my shotgun? Which one will go a date with her and her little brothers as chaperones? Which one will I have to “ coincidently” follow around school and sit in on his classes under the pretext I was observing his excellent teachers?“
Then my thoughts changed to “What am I going to do with my boys, now?” My sons were filled to the top with energy. It was as if they were ready for Marc Antony to yell, “Cry Havoc, let slip the dogs of war!” They were ready to run through the halls, play tag or trip a freshman. However, since most of the students were larger, my oldest son decided to trip the youngest one. Of course, this lead to a near brawl, so we retreated to my classroom to decorate the walls with posters and hand-made pictures.
Meanwhile, my daughter circled the hallways helping classmates find their way around. I would look out the door and see her once in a while. She was leading the way, a far cry from my first day wanderings with a map. I know it is difficult to erase the picture of a tall, muscular, suave and sophisticated man I have grown into, but try anyway. The first day of my freshman year I was a tall (6 ft.), skinny (120 lbs.), quiet teen with acne and glasses. The majority of my students today find it difficult to comprehend that I was a geek. It is amazing how much we change, and I wonder what changes my daughter will have.
Now, every school year, I relive the first day of high school. My father gave me some advice: Say, “Do your work. Do not cause problems.” Then place a gun on the desk and ask, “Any questions?” I am not sure but I think there are some rules or even laws against this.
Last year’s class told me to just stare at the kids and not say a word. Hand out the expectations and an assignment. Then just stare at them as if I was deciding which one to defenestrate or give a detention to. Although this opening day procedure sounds fun and may be legal, I would start to smile and laugh. It was the teaching style of my ninth grade teacher, but it is not mine.
I tend to smile and begin by telling students, “Welcome to Latin class!” Then, I wait for the nervous looks and the double checking of schedules. I smile and say, “Just kidding.” I know, it’s kind of mean. However, it does lead into the story of my first day.
I am curious, how have you changed since your freshman year?