Another New Day
As we walked down the hall her hand felt small in mine. Her breathing changed from a steady calm to a fast anxious breath. She had stopped talking and was taking in all the visuals she could. We rounded the corner and stopped in front of room 214. We could hear children engaged in a conversation about a poem they had just read. Her hand tightened and her eyes widened. Excited, nervous, anxious, a bit scared, I felt her take a deep breath. I asked her if she was ready to meet her new classmates. She nodded and we walked forward. She suddenly pulled on my arm to stop me. I could see she was starting to breathe heavily and that she really was not ready to go in yet. She was unable to ask me for a moment but I knew. She was not the first student I had walked to a classroom to meet a new teacher and classmates. In fact this was a daily routine for me. I work with highly mobile and homeless students, and everyday is a new first day for someone. She was my fifth one this week and it was Wednesday.
The excited conversations in my office often turn to silence or move from silence to constant conversation as I help a new student transition to their classroom. The anxiety and apprehension of entering yet another new classroom never fades. As some students move into a new classroom with some ease, most students do not. I believe it is essential to the community of a classroom that students are welcomed and integrated in a way that is warm and welcoming. Those first impressions set the stage for learning and interacting with each other.
I peeked into the classroom and caught the eye of the classroom teacher. She set her class to a task and came to meet us at the door. She did not know she was receiving a new student, yet she came to the door ready to welcome her into the room. She came down to her eye level and acknowledged her immediately. She looked at me and said “I hope you brought me a new student because I can tell she has a lot to bring to our classroom and you know how much I love having new ideas and beautiful smiles in my room.” I felt her hand loosen immediately and let go as if she was embarrassed to be holding my hand. Her teacher held out her hand while asking her name and the transition was complete. She was still anxious, hadn’t smiled yet but already felt wanted and welcome. Her teacher slowly walked her around the room showing her things and explaining different parts of the room. This was not part of her lesson plans but she knew how important it was to give her new student time to just observe others and to get a sense of the room. It was her teacher’s way of building trust and providing a safe space for her. I appreciated that she did not march her to the middle of the room to introduce her but let her get a feel, to ease into the space and transition/adjust at her own pace.
As I was leaving her new teacher was introducing her to another student who would help her through the next few days with routines and lunch recess. I believe that being prepared for a new student is essential to the well being of that student, staff and the students currently in the classroom. Having ongoing staff conversations about inclusion and welcoming activities as well as training students in each room to be “buddies” in the classroom, at recess and at lunch is important. When the time is taken upfront and the time adjusting is shorter and sweeter for all.
I watched outside the room for a while; just long enough for the smile to appear and to know that she was in good hands. She was pulled into the conversation about the poem and was well on her way to a smooth transition. Her teacher gave me a wink and I knew all was well. The lost 10 minutes of the lesson truly was worth it and the smiles prove it.