On Aug. 20, school started for tens of thousands of Anchorage students and teachers. School staff and students alike worked feverishly getting things ready for the big day. Except for me and my students, because I teach kindergarten. These youngsters and myself got a pass for another week. The kiddos enjoyed another week of summer freedom, while I got the opportunity to meet each of the children and their families and got to know them. And for good reason, too. This is a whole new world that these four- and five-year-olds are about to enter, and it shouldn't be taken lightly.
In our district, as I'm sure is the case in many districts across the country, kindergartners are excused from normal attendance for the first week of school. Instead, children came with their parents to meet with their teachers. They saw their desks, their cubbies and their hooks in the closet. They got a sneak peek at our class books, all the toys and yes, they saw where the bathroom is. This is very important.
This is a whole new experience for me as well, as this is my first year teaching kindergarten. I'm not exactly what I would call a rookie teacher, with a few years shy of a decade under my belt in grades 1-3. I've come to know that every grade level has its own nuances and unique identifiers that make each of them great.
First grade is that magic time where reading takes its roots for so many children. Second offers that transition from learning to read to reading to learn, while third graders develop independence and confidence that allows them to engage in complex thought, all the while maintaining that innocence that is childhood.
And kindergarten — well, it's kindergarten. It's the beginning of the road. It serves as a foundation in which all other grade levels build on. I've been told it takes a special person to teach it. I'm not so sure that I'm all that special, but I'm looking forward to this new challenge.
What I've always loved about teaching is that we enjoy something that few professions do: a clear beginning and closure to every year. Our lives in public education are constantly changing and spinning, nothing like Bill Murray's Groundhog's Day, grinding each day out in proverbial redundancy. There are no dull moments, and thankfully so.
The start of each year offers a new hope. A hope for fun activities and new skills to be learned. A hope for new friendships, as well as adversities and the resiliency they create. While I have enjoyed this feeling of new hope at the start of each of my years in public education, I've never quite felt the way I do now.
The enormity of the hope I feel is hard to describe. I suppose it's because these young children about to enter into my room are the personification of our society's new hope for the future. I have no idea what to expect of these children I've never met, but if my experience has taught me anything it is to expect great things.
Children rise to the level of our expectations and are capable of things that astound even the most seasoned educators. It is our responsibly, as teachers and our community as a whole, to support them. We should offer them guidance, grace, and keep our expectations high. They are our hope for the future, after all. And I can assure you that we have a lot to be hopeful for.
Paul Campbell is a kindergarten teacher in Anchorage at Chester Valley Elementary School. He was the recipient of the 2016 Milken Educator Award for the state of Alaska.
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