I’ve spent the last week getting my classroom ready, and it’s gotten me thinking a great deal about what the first day of school is going to be like. I’m probably more excited this year than any year previous, and there isn’t one reason why. I like that.
Just a few days ago, The Atlantic posted an article written by an American educator who taught in Finland. He was surprised to find out that Finnish teachers were seemingly very nonchalant about the first day of school. The article goes on to explain that these teachers knew exactly what they were doing: they were easing their students into the school year.
When I started grade seven I was at a new school. My previous school had gone only to grade six, and the new school was for grades seven and eight. That summer, we had taken a family trip to visit my aunt and her partner in California, and we didn’t land back in Canada until the morning of the first day of school.
I can’t begin to tell you how stressful that was for me, a timid kid at the best of times. Obviously everything went smoothly when I arrived for day two, but the thought that everyone had already seen each other and made new friends was enough to cause me severe anxiety.
The point is, the first day of school is — for almost all students — stressful. The reasons for that stress are many, but the fact that it exists is the reason why Finland’s teachers opt for a “soft start” to the school year. They focus on inclusion, emotional safety, and on creating an atmosphere where all the students in the class can feel relaxed.
I want to do this on the first day of school, and I have some ideas for how to achieve this, ideas that differ drastically from what I did last year. My grade 4s deserve a teacher who listens to what they need on that first day — a calm, relaxing atmosphere with a teacher who empathizes with the anxiety they are feeling. I sure could have used that back in grade seven.