They were my first class. They were first graders and they taught me to notice missing teeth and new shoes. I remember my first day as their teacher. I hoped that my students would welcome me, and I hoped that their parents would think that I was grown-up enough to teach their children. I was twenty-one.
It didn’t take me long to realize that it was my job to welcome my students–not their job to welcome me–and my job to assure parents, not the other way around. Over the years the “first day welcome” has become more and more intentional. First, it crept beyond the first weeks of September and then it leapt into October. Now welcome is a way of life in Room 204.
I knew the power of welcome before I learned of the research that backed it up. The research says that children need to belong, feel safe, and know joy to learn. This can only happen in a place where children are seen, heard, and invited in. I knew it before I learned it–that’s how intuition works. Intuition alone doesn’t trump a textbook or a pacing chart or a lesson plan, but research can.
For three summers I have participated in either the Reading or Writing Institute at Columbia Teachers College with Lucy Calkins. Lucy’s research puts words to what I know is true. I know making sure every child has agency as a reader and writer is key to his or her autonomy as a learner and ultimate success as student. I know it starts with an invitation: “I have a book that is just right for you.”
My conversations with children work in a teeter totter balance of “Oh, look what you can already do!” with “Get ready, today I’m going to teach you something new.”
We are building a community where everybody matters. We are building a common canon of folk tales and stories from many cultures, and with it, a language of literary allusion. We are building trust, so that we can take risks without risking shame. We are building a sense of common purpose in a world that is bigger than ourselves. We are building stamina as readers, writers, and problem solvers. We are building an academic vocabulary that can deepen our understanding of all that we learn. And we don’t have time to waste.
We are learning to open our arms wide to the world. It all starts in a doorway with an outstretched hand and it grows within a circle of trust. Teaching is a radical act of hospitality. “Welcome.” I smile and I tell the truth: “I am glad you are here.”