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Megan Peterson


Photo of reading at celebrationNever Again

I arrived at school during the dark morning hours, entered my classroom, and flipped on the fluorescent lights. When I left on Friday my walls were postered with schedules, visuals, and pictures, bringing life to a new classroom. Now my hard work was struggling to survive, clinging to the dingy concrete walls with their last efforts. In attempts to revive the fallen, I plugged in my hot glue gun, confident that it would at least hold for the next eight hours. Each table was set with a fresh basket of crayons and pencils, hungry to be used. Cubbies were labeled with the names of each child along with Popsicle sticks, lockers, table spots, lunch number cards, and of course their information tags for the afternoon bus. Losing a kindergartener was not going to happen on my watch.

Nine thirty was approaching quickly. My eyes twitched, maybe from the loosened light that wouldn’t completely turn on, or from my nerves of living in what was soon to be my reality. Twenty-seven at once fearless and fearful five year olds would be arriving to their new classroom, a room that just over a week ago housed the copy machine and tables where teachers would gather and vent to each other over dry pizza and 1% milk. Maybe it was the faint smell of processed pancakes being heated up in the adjacent school kitchen, or the carpet cleaner attacking the moldy stains on my floor, but as I took a look around, I saw room 20 at its best. Then with a deep breath, I opened up my door for the very first time.

Students started to trickle into the classroom, one by one, like a leaky faucet. About five minutes later the room was filled to the brim with kindergarteners. The air, heavy with tears, wild noises, and energy, ignited a new sense of anxiety that would not be cured until 4:15 pm.

Nametags, I thought to myself. How could I forget the two hours I spent last night writing, laminating, hole punching, and stringing 27 nametags? Thankfully I remembered them before all of the literate adults left my classroom. As soon as the sigh of relief left my lungs I heard a halting. . . “Teacher, it broke.” Didn’t these kids know how to wear a nametag without pulling on it? Didn’t they know how much time I spent last night hunched over my kitchen table, palms exhausted from the constant click of the hole punch? If they did, they were certainly not showing me their appreciation. While I was quickly retying the broken string with a “child proof” knot, I felt something wet brushing against my elbow. Trying to hide my disgust, I looked to my side and locked eyes with a drool stained nametag. Even through the plastic covering, the cardstock was sucking up saliva like paper towel from a Bounty commercial. I looked the child in the eyes and said “Let’s keep our name tags out of our mouth so we don’t pass germs.” The confused child responded with a “¿Qué?”

I always heard that the first day of school was one of the quietest days of the year. The fear of the unknown would stifle any abilities to socialize. Either I was completely lied to by my friendly colleagues, or they never experienced the terrorizing thrill of teaching kindergarten.

I quickly learned that there are three types of kindergarteners on the first day of school.

First there are the Zombies. These kids slowly wander through the door stunned and wide-eyed. “Good morning José, I’m Ms. Megan your teacher. Let me show you where to sit.” José stares through me as if I’m speaking a different language. Even though he doesn’t respond with anything but a blank stare, he miraculously sits down and starts to entertain himself with the paper and crayons placed in front of him. Zombies do not talk to strangers, but will follow along with the flow of the day without any recollection of what they did. Their fear of school won’t ignite until they realize that they HAVE to come back tomorrow. Zombies might face their fear and return, or they may simply vanish, never to step foot in your classroom again.

Next, there are the Energizer Bunnies, kids who enter the classroom like it’s a giant toy store. Once their eyes spot the freshly stacked blocks, folders, papers, and newly organized library, their hands are already grabbing saying “must, touch, must, touch.” These kids don’t respond well to directions or rules, therefore teachers must be on alert at all times. Writing utensils travel very quickly in the hands of a Bunny. “Alex, pencils are meant for paper, not tables or Promethean Boards.” I quickly put his pencil in the only place my mind could think of at the time, my pocket. Bunnies require teachers to keep their eyes open, hands ready, and pockets empty.  

Lastly there are the angry and bitter boys and girls who realize the reality of what is happening to them, otherwise known as Divas. In order to spot a Diva you just need to listen for the kicks, whines, tears, grunts, or the rare, yet startling scream that echoes in the hallway. If you haven’t guessed it, Divas tend to seek out attention the only way they know how, by throwing a temper tantrum. With pursed lips and crossed arms, they enter your classroom ready to destroy any happiness you have planned. Sometimes ignoring them can intensify their anger. “Kathy, it’s ok to feel angry, but it’s not ok to break all the crayons in your bucket.” However most of the time their tears dry up and eventually turn into smiles.

Switching roles throughout the day and year should be expected. Kindergarteners may enter the classroom as a Bunny, but reserve the right to morph into a Diva and/or Zombie at any time for any reason.  

The Zombies, Bunnies, and Divas were finally all accounted for and mildly entertained. This was my cue. The golden apple bell, handed down to me by my new colleague Ms. Rite, rested silently on my desk awaiting to fulfill its potential. Carefully, I walked backwards and took two steps to my left, keeping my eyes glued to the organized chaos that was ensuing. Holding the stem with my right hand and cupping the bottom with my left, I retraced my steps and headed back to the center of the room. The ring had a high dull pitch that struggled to cut through the wild noises. Kids looked around for a quick moment, puzzled, then shrugged their shoulders and went back to work. My right hand shook again, this time a little faster. Voices began to weaken as if attempting to hear where this unfamiliar sound came from. The third and final ring meant business. All eyes turned to center stage, on me. It’s now or never. I placed my hands on my head and with a gentle directness sang, “Put your hands on your head and, look at me.” They followed! As soon as their hands reached the top of their heads I quickly interjected. “Freeze. Listen quietly to the next direction.” Students remained frozen, as if I had somehow caste a spell on them.  “When I say melt, I want you to push in your chairs and find a place on the rug near my chair. Melt!” Some kids melted as fast as the snow on a warm spring day; others seemed to be living in an extended winter. With a little coaching, we all made it to the carpet, sitting crisscross applesauce, and facing forward. I introduced their very first read aloud, opened it, and began to read, “In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf . . ..“


Dusk was approaching as I finished reorganizing and cleaning my classroom. Crayons and pencils returned to their buckets, books restacked, crumpled papers recycled, and nametags rested neatly on the tables. I could still hear the ringing of the 27 fearful and fearless kindergarteners in my head. A type of zombified exhaustion was diluting the anxiety that once filled my body. I glanced at my phone to find that I had two missed calls and a couple of text messages. Before I realized, my thumbs responded with “sorry be there soon, save me a seat and order me a beer,” then I grabbed my bags, shut the lights off, and closed the door. Reality hit me as I walked down the silent basement hallway and up the stairs. It wasn’t fear, but a sigh of relief that I would never have to live through the first day ever again.