It’s the first day of school and I’m wearing a red cardigan and black trousers. My black heeled boots click down the empty hallway and I see the heavy wooden door to my room—closed. It opens before me to reveal buzzing fluorescent lights, empty gray walls, and a dinosauric overhead projector on a table. Suddenly forty-five burly, male students in snapbacks and gold chains materialize, hulking about, huddling in corners, lounging in desks that barely fit them. Wait! There are only four desks total and no whiteboard! Before I have time to consider the furniture, the boys sneer, encircle me, and then vanish. The new principal with short blond hair appears and yells, “Mrs. Roeser, school started last week!” My heart pounds and I can’t swallow. I sit straight up in bed, wearing my Vacation Bible School t-shirt from three summers before and my husband’s boxer shorts.
My early August nightmares have begun.
Similarly, a friend from college dreamt she’d been placed in a room with fifty kids and two pencils as her “teaching budget.”
Another friend dreamt the principal moved her classroom to the top floor of a skyscraper without windowpanes. On the first day of school she tried to pass out papers, but huge gusts of wind blew everything down to the street. She continued to pass out papers in the blowing wind until they all blew away and she was left standing with twenty-six second graders and no lesson.
My uncle dreamt he was paged out of AP Economics. Outside he met the principal from his own teenage years—with a paddle. “I got licks!” he told me. Decades after graduation he was still dreaming that school was beating him up.
But it’s not just teachers—even students have “first day dreams.” My students have told me they’ve dreamt of purchasing a whole new wardrobe to wear to school. The morning after their dreams they opened their closets to find the same lackluster apparel. Others dreamed they had a brand new car to drive, but then woke and realized a friend would be coming to pick them up in a rusted 1980s era family van.
On the real first day of school I’m wearing a brown bubble skirt and wedge sandals with a blouse, safety-pinned at the yoke—like all of my teaching blouses—so I can modestly bend over and help students at their desks. I stand at the door and shake every student’s hand and ask, “¿Cómo te llamas?” Most are caught off guard, fighting to remember Spanish 2.
“Me llamo Señora Roeser. ¿Cómo te llamas?” I ask, pointing first to myself and then each student in the waiting line. A skinny boy with wavy brown hair and bright gray eyes stammers before his brain code switches and a handful of Spanish comes back to him.
“Oh. Brandon?” He asks as if he needs to double check.
“Hola, Brandon. Mucho gusto,” I say. I smile and extend my arm so as to welcome him into the room. He nods and looks past me. A brawny male student wearing an oversized jersey sits near the door, while a petite brunette with flat-ironed hair and a short skirt sits in the opposite corner of the room. Brandon enters and sits as far away from either of them as physically possible.
Class starts. I take a deep breath and pass out my syllabus. An Asian girl in horn rims and a Run DMC shirt exchanges glances with a smirking, angular girl. They roll their eyes every time I discuss a point on the syllabus. An exceptionally small blond boy sits at attention in the front row—his last year’s navy backpack loaded. When I ask students to fill out their information card he pulls out an assortment of pens with which to write, and aligns them on the desk next to a rubber eraser. A tall, curly haired Mexican kid wearing a school soccer jersey lifts his eyebrows and whispers to another boy like him, but with straight hair. I check my roster—brothers. Curly asks his brother if he can borrow a pencil. His brother punches him in the arm. I remember my own brothers beating the crap out of each other and decide I’ll have to separate the boys. Uh-oh, Curly is eyeing the short skirt girl. Can’t put him there… A black girl with weave glued far back on her head alternately stares and blinks rapidly. She is the only senior. I try to smile encouragingly. Curly throws something across the room and it lands in the lap of the short skirted girl.
I do an activity called The 5 Whys, developed by Toyota Motor Company back in the 1970’s as a problem-solving tool. The problem? Everyone is in a state of heightened anxiety the first day of the year, wanting to do better, wanting to be liked, wanting to graduate. The solution is to remind students of their goals in a structured way. I can usually get it done three whys.
Why take Spanish 3?
So I can graduate distinguished and go to TCU and major in Speech Pathology and it helps if you’re bilingual because lots of kids who speak Spanish need help, too.
Also because I like to help people – especially little kids and their parents don’t speak English and they still have speech problems and need people to help them that speak Spanish.
Because I had a good piano teacher and she helped me a lot and I want to help people like her.
—Ms. Short Skirt
Because the counselor put me in here… Because probably the counselor wasn’t paying attention… Because everyone makes mistakes sometimes.
So I can graduate and get into a good college… So that I can get a good job and make lots of money… So that I can help my family not to worry so much about money and so my mom won’t have to work so hard all the time and can take a break.
To learn Spanish… Because I need to know it for life… Because I want to be able to talk to my grandpa.
Guess what? I never have bad dreams before the second day of school.
Jessica Eddings-Roeser is a writer with several years experience teaching under-privileged students in the Texas public school system. She’s taught English, Language Arts, ESOL, Creative Writing, College Reading, and Spanish levels 1-4AP at both the middle and high school levels. She founded and ran an adult ESOL program for her church, and contributes to the AVID program at her former high school. Currently she is at home with her baby and writing during naptime, but dreams of volunteering to teach creative writing in the Texas juvenile prison system. Maybe she’s crazy… she has an MFA in fiction.