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Rich Henderson's Diary
The First 180 Days

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Rich Henderson, a lawyer, always dreamed of being a teacher. Last year, he gave up his law career and returned to the classroom to earn his teaching certification. This year, his dream finally comes true in a fifth-grade classroom in suburban Woodbury, Connecticut. Each week during this school year -- Rich's first year in the classroom -- he will share with Education World readers his thoughts and feelings about his first 180 days!

Rich's Diary: Back-to-School Night

Week 4

In the quiet of the evening, I waited and listened. Nothing. No footsteps. No sounds. Nothing. It was too quiet, and I was nervous. As the sweat began to concentrate on my forehead, I looked at the clock and noted that it was 6:30 p.m. -- it was time. I started to pace back and forth, hoping to hear the footsteps of someone, anyone approaching, but still nothing. "Where could they be?" For days, I had been planning for this moment, but now I simply had to wait. Then it happened.

They started to come, slowly at first, but within 15 minutes, many more of them came. The silence that once enveloped the room was quickly replaced with a continuous hum of chatter and laughter. They were here. The parents were here. It was 6:45 p.m. and Back-to-School Night was finally under way. The question of the night was simply this: Was I going to pass the test?

Comfort or misgiving? Confidence or concern? Assurance or apprehension? How were the parents of my students going to feel when they left the classroom? Would they feel comfortable having me, a first-year teacher, as their child's fifth-grade teacher? Or would they come away from our meeting with a feeling of dread and anxiety over the prospect that their children had to endure ten months with the "new guy"? Those questions were weighing on my mind during the days leading up to Back-to-School Night. I wanted the parents to like me. I wanted them to feel confident in my teaching abilities. I wanted them to walk away from our meeting with the belief that I was indeed good enough for their children. That's what I wanted. However, what I want and what others feel may not always be the same.

So as I cleaned, decorated, and organized the classroom, I tried to think of ways that I could enhance myself in the eyes of the parents. What could I do to increase their comfort level in my role as their child's teacher? How could I demonstrate to them that I am a capable and caring teacher? It was during this self-evaluation that I realized something very important. I realized I didn't need to demonstrate anything. I knew that in order for me to convey to the parents my dedication to my students, I simply had to be myself.

I had to allow the parents an opportunity to begin to get to know me, to understand that although I do not have years of experience behind me, I am greatly concerned about their children's education and well being. I must allow the parents to believe that I will always give my students my very best each day, to know that the lines of communication are always open and that all concerns and questions will be addressed, to simply see that I care. Perhaps knowing all this, the parents will overlook my inexperience and appreciate my dedication.

Did I pass the test? If passing means that the parents and I got to know each other better, then I would certainly consider it a success. It is my hope that as both the students and the parents get to know me a little better, any misgivings that may exist due to my teaching inexperience will soon subside, to be replaced with their confidence and comfort. When that occurs, I will know that I passed this test with flying colors.

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Rich Henderson
Education World®
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09/21/2000