SHERIDAN — The first day back to school brings many feelings — memories of great years past or nerves for a new year to begin. Sheridan-area students and teachers kick off the new school year later this month, and they described the feelings of that first day back.
Sheridan County School District 1 superintendent Pete Kilbride said the first day of school is about setting the tone for what the year will be like.
“My expectation for the administrators and the teachers is going to be that it’s high-energy,” Kilbride said. “The kids know that they’re coming into a learning environment [where] we’re going to challenge them, but we’re also going to have fun.”
Ideally, Kilbride said, it’s about kids going home enthusiastic about school.
“I want kids going home that first day saying, ‘Mom, Dad, I am so excited to be here,’” Kilbride said. “If they’re coming from the elementary (school) to middle (school) or middle school to high school, they’re going to be nervous anyway, and I want them to go home just jazzed.”
Richard Welch, Big Horn High School and Big Horn Middle School principal, taught Spanish for 20 years at both schools before moving into an administrative role in 2010. Teachers go back to school a week before students, but Welch said it doesn’t feel like a place of learning until students populate the building.
“It’s not a school until the kids are here,” Welch said. “We’re planning, we’re preparing, we’re getting those things done, but it just doesn’t feel like it until those kids walk in.”
He anticipates excitement on the first day.
“There’s just an electricity when the kids come in,” Welch said. “It just lifts you up and you’re ready to go … You’re just excited to be back with kids again, and if you’re not, you probably should’ve found a different job over the summer.”
Even as an experienced teacher, Welch still got nervous leading up to the first day, but he said those nerves help him perform well.
Tongue River High School activities director and social studies teacher Steve Hanson has taught for eight years. Like Welch, Hanson said he still gets nervous standing in the front of the room on the first day — human nature.
“It’s kind of like the opening bell where there’s going to be the jitters and you have to kind of settle in,” Hanson said. “I’m going to have 10 kids that I’ve never met before. I have to learn their names, figure out what their parents’ names are; gotta find out what makes them tick; challenge them a little bit; do some things early on.”
Arvada-Clearmont fifth- and sixth-grade teacher Jonathan Broersma always pays close attention to the different reactions of kids when they walk in the door.
“I love to observe my students,” Broersma wrote in an email. “There are some who are as excited as me and some who are not ready for summer to be over. It’s hilarious at times. The students are what makes it exciting.”
Broersma said he appreciates the students’ perspective.
“There are students who are apprehensive for the first day,” Broersma wrote. “They’ve had a whole summer to sleep in, relax, and not think about school. I understand that. I was that kid.”
Hanson agreed and said the first days feels more like a week than the actual eight- or nine-hour day.
“They’re still kids, and they don’t want to be there yet,” Hanson said. “That’s a day that they wish they were at the pool or on the mountain.”
For athletes like TRHS senior football player Zach Schankey, every day is busy from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and he described a feeling of exhaustion after the first day.
“You’re not used to your school schedule,” Schankey said. “You’re used to staying up late.”
Schankey’s teammate and fellow senior, AJ Lytton, said he always looks for new people to talk with in the halls, but there aren’t a ton of fresh faces every year in the school of around 120 students.
Schankey and Lytton remember being excited for the first day in elementary school and gradually less enthusiastic over the years — the expectations become routine.
Hanson tries to break up the monotony of the first day — when students hear from every teacher about classroom expectations and what the course will entail — by giving odd exercises. For example, he has descriptions of 30 generic people — such as a middle-aged dentist — and has students pick 10 of them to take to a new planet and explain their reasoning.
In addition to asking questions to students — What do you want to get out of this class? What’s one thing I should know about you as a student? What don’t you like? — Hanson also asks students what they expect from him.
“A lot of times they’re just like, ‘I want you to be happy to be here,’” Hanson said. “If I’m not happy to be there, then it’s pretty tough for them to want to be there.”
At the end of the day, Welch said he is mentally and physically exhausted from the focus and energy required of the job. It can be a rigorous schedule that requires instructors to be laser-focused from about 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“The kids really mirror you,” Welch said. “If you’ve got the energy and excitement, they’ll have it.”
Although it may not seem like it, Welch said there is undoubtedly a performative aspect to standing and talking at the front of a room of students.
“You’re onstage every minute of the day in front of those kids,” Welch said. “Mentally, you’re tired. You’re tired from being on your feet. It’s a draining profession.”
After the first day and all of its newness and surprises, Kilbride said he can usually start to relax and start honing in on the work.
“You get a chance to kind of reassess and go, ‘OK, what do we need to improve on? Where do we need to get better?’” Kilbride said. “Now we can actually start to relax … Day 2 is like, ‘OK, now we’re down to business.’”
Welch felt similarly.
“You’re going, ‘OK, what am I going to follow up on?’” Welch said. “‘What am I going to do different tomorrow? What went well today? What didn’t?’ You don’t get to turn it off. The kids leave and you’re like, ‘OK, I’ve got to get ready for tomorrow.’”
The first day of school carries weight for students and educators alike, and no matter how it’s approached or handled, it sets the tone for the remainder of the new school year.