When I was four going-on-five, my parents took me to a preschool in the basement of a Methodist church. We were and are not Methodist, but church hosted a fine preschool that both my brothers and I graduated from.
On the first day, I walked into the strange place with brightly colored cubbies and low tables with small chairs for our little legs. There was a playroom in the back, but I was a bit nervous to join the other kids, so I sat down at the table and did what I thought was obvious. I took off my shoes.
“We are going to keep our shoes on,” my teacher said. It didn’t make sense to me because we always take out shoes off at home, but I shrugged my shoulders and put them back on. (That story is funny to me now because I loathe wearing shoes. I will always go barefoot when I can: at work, while running and even at bars. Yeah, it’s gross but I am always more comfortable without shoes.)
A year later, in kindergarten, my best friend Heather and I took on the big-kid school together. We posed for a picture on our new playground: her in a white dress and me in a matching maroon shirt and shorts set.
The day before my freshman, my mom and I tried to highlight my hair. It turned out orange. I held back the tears and told it her it was fine, but she insisted we run to the store and get a brown color to calm it down. The repair worked and I entered my first year of high school with a normal shade.
My apartment my junior year of college was only a few blocks from campus so I walked to my first class at 8 a.m. I had too many beers with my new neighbors the night before, but still made it up and was hoping for a “here is your syllabus” type first day. After a summer spent in Brookings, it was invigorating to see the campus come back to life. I wanted to be a college student forever, I thought while walking on the sidewalks and worn paths of the place I loved so much.
The first day of school is always special, no matter what level of education. In elementary, it meant a trip to grandma’s so we could shop for a new outfit and shiny new markers. In high school, it was the hope that this year would be different. And the familiarity and the notion of coming home made day one so special in college.
Today was the first day of school, my second as a teacher. Last year, the start offered validation with actual work to attend to after a month of trying to find my place in the village. But, when I arrived, I felt lost, not knowing the other teachers or understanding that the start is more of a gradual process in Lesotho than in America.
This time, I knew what to expect. I knew that the students would have to sweep the classrooms and clean the grounds area – and I would ask they also take on the library – and the teachers would plan what classes they would teach. Maybe even scheme, go through the national syllabus and decide what they will teach in a term, but I didn’t think school would last past 1 p.m.
And most of that happened. It wad decided that I would teach Form C language, Form B language and literature and life skills to both Form B and C. When our meeting ended, we each took 20-minute periods to introduce our topics to our classes before dismissing early.
Although I was eager to get back to work and have productive days again, I was nervous about returning to teaching. I am not a natural when it comes to instructing the youth and my career as an educator will likely end when I leave Lesotho. I have 11 months left in this country and that doesn’t seem like a lot, but another school year is daunting. When I think about that first year, I tend to remember the frustrations with my students and myself and the constant misunderstanding.
However, when I walked into the school gate this morning, I forgot about the times my anger got the best of me or the days some students refused to do homework or try a new learning concept. They didn’t matter anymore. This year is new.
I greeted each student with a mighty hello and by name. They usually turned their head to the corner and offered a soft hi; even in Africa, no student wants to be caught socializing with the teacher. As the teachers poured in, I offered the same type of welcoming and inquired about their holidays. I was a bit surprised at how happy I was to see all of these faces again and it made me think to last year when I was the stranger and knew so little. Now, I am a regular, a part of the scene, and that is comforting.
This year won’t be like last. Yes, there will be challenges and struggles, but I now have the knowledge of experience to guide. I understand my place at the school and I can use that as a stepping stool to greater things.
I am no longer a student and I am far from the schools of my education, but I still feel that combination of familiarity and hope that comes with the first day. It will be a good year.