The back-to-school time of year has always been one of my favorite moments.
When I was a kid, I remember my mother coming into my room when I was still sleeping to wake me up and ask, “Do you want to go to private school or public?” With my head still on the pillow, I exclaimed, “Public.”
I have not thought too much about why I made that choice beyond the fact that I wanted what was available for all children my age and to make more friends. If you ask me anything specifically about the first day of public school, I don’t recall who my teacher was or what the classroom looked like. The only two personal memories about that day are that I got to choose what kind of milk I wanted for snack (always chocolate), and I hated nap time with a passion—I wasn’t good at taking naps. Not everyone can fall asleep at will and at a specific time told to do so. These memories are strong because I was given the trust of my voice and experienced both the value of having choice and not.
Because I didn’t think of voice and choice as best practices in my first year of teaching, that very first “back-to-school” created so much anxiety that I counted down the days from 179 to the last day. It was a painful year filled with much self-doubt, frustration, and constant searching for another job. So, starting in year two—when I had done more reading about teaching, attended professional conferences, and participated in instructional coaching—I returned to thinking about the memory of my first day as a public school student.
With time for reflection after year one of teaching and more experience behind me, I came to better understand why it’s essential to provide a space for student voice and choice.
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