I clearly remember my mixed feelings, as a student, when came the time of the rentrée (start of the new school year — but for once, that’s easier in French: a single word, a very special one, used by every people and every media in France when the time comes.) Excitation, regret, both anticipation and reluctance. Reunion with old friends, mysteries of the new classmates, new teachers, new curriculum. And the childish joy of new school material, the choice of the pencil wallet, the beautiful fountain pen, the customized files.
I’m a teacher for years, now, but I experience the same feelings in the first days of September. I’m not sure the students are aware of that. There’s almost exactly the same alchemy, though: I have to leave the great freedom of holiday, but I’m still excited about this time of discoveries. New students every year: I never know what they will be. New projects. New books to study and share with them. New syllabus, this year. And even the material part: new notebooks and agendas I carefully prepare.
Then there’s the question of the first hour. Every teacher, not only beginners, wonders about this hour. That’s a meeting hour, and meetings are one of the most wonderful times in a life. They aren’t played twice. What sort of impression will we create on the students, on that first hour? What sort of impression would we like to create? The austere, severe, merciless teacher, in order to prevent any further trouble? The nice, friendly one? Or the one who thinks out of the box and all students will remember forever? Of course, we’d all like to be the last one, a teacher close to Professor Keating in Dead Poets Society. At least, I would. But that’s not an easy line to walk on. We’re not characters in a movie, and neither are our students. I have to prepare mine to the most important exam they ever passed, the baccalauréat (end of secondary school and compulsory for university). What sort of teacher would I be if I decided to be brilliant and charismatic but failed to prepare them to meet the examinators’ expectations, then to enter university?
Even so, we still wonder about this first hour. Now that teachers also have their mailing-lists and Twitter accounts, I can tell you that we talked a lot about this hour, these past few days. Should we stick to administrative matters ? Set out the syllabus and the final exam ? Begin the first lesson right now ? Or trying to be a bit more original ? Reading aloud a short story to show them the tricks of reading, such as, say, Matheson “Pattern for Survival”? Try to learn more about them, using by example the Proust Questionnaire? Or we could be even more extreme: take them for a walk in a park, like Keating, and teach them while we walk, like Ancient Greeks; begin with a TV show episode and prove them it can be analyzed with the same tools as a literary text. That would be fun, sure. Or would it be demagogic? Not everyone will agree. That’s what I meant about the line, so hard to define, so easy to cross.
I’ll see my students tomorrow. I’m still not sure of the part I’ll choose, and have no idea of the impression I’ll create. But despite the end of holiday, despite my being a mom now, I’m looking forward to it. Like every year.