It's the third week of the semester, and my students and I are starting to feel more comfortable with the routine. I sense this because each morning when I walk into the classroom, there's now a quiet hum of conversation between them.
It didn't start this way. On the first day when I entered each new room, ready to distribute the thick stack of syllabi I carried in the crook of my arm, the students had been sitting in silence. As a general rule, I have no qualms with silence if it's calming or contemplative. But silence in a classroom on the first day of the semester rarely conveys that pleasantness; it's instead tinged with a mixture of awkwardness and tension.
And on day one, despite the discomfort silence invites, few students appear willing to break on their own volition.
So, I gently nudge them. As I prep my materials, I place the bait, "Would you please turn to somebody you don't know and introduce yourself?" Then I watch as the silence is replaced with casual conversation.
I began class this way for two weeks straight. Students learned the name of the person directly beside them, then the person behind them, then a classmate a few seats down. Their circles of People I Know enlarged each day to the extent that now it's nearly an automatic response for them to greet each other.
But lingering in that awkward silence could have been just as automatic. It's easier to stay quiet, to not put ourselves out there and foster connections, to remain in our own little worlds.
My five-year-old voiced this sentiment with such pained honesty when I tucked her into bed after her first few days of kindergarten. "Mommy, I don't want to go back to school. I don't want to talk with anybody new. I don't want to make any new friends. I just want to stay home with you and Daddy."
I smiled and sighed and hugged her because I get it. Oh, baby girl, I get it.
After all these years, this is still how I feel at the start of a school year, too. I don't want to go back. I don't particularly want to meet anybody new, or talk to anybody new, or have anybody look at me -- but this is inevitable because I'm the teacher and an adult (despite how often I feel the contrary), and really, there's no other choice.
In spite of it all, I put myself out there, testing the waters, finding my footing, and slowly fostering those connections that eventually can turn into wonderful things. Hopefully, I'm training my students -- and my children -- to do the same. We sometimes all need a nudge.