We All Get the Before School Jitters


A natural madala built by a child struggling with anxiety. It was soothing for her and for all of us in class. Her calmness, smile, and hug when she finished said it all. It worked.

It’s that time of year again. We are cleaning and organizing our rooms to get ready for a new school year. And with that comes excitement, anticipation, and often jitters of anxiety. Here it is the middle of the night, a week before school starts, and I’m sitting up with a cup of chamomile tea and a stomach full of jitters. There are several things that help me when I get jitters. One thing is to write, so here I sit writing. Another thing is to take the focus off of academic work for a minute or two. The curriculum is going to be at school to greet us whether we are ready or not. So for now let’s think about the notion that if we feel this way, our kids feel this way too. Some, if not all, are having sleepless nights and jitters too. With new experiences such as a new teacher, new routines and expectations, new classmates comes anticipation and uncertainty and thus, jitters.

Our role as teacher of these new youngins is to first help them feel safe, cared for, and cared about. When we allow ourselves to come around to that thinking we allow ourselves to embrace some out of the box ideas to try those first few days. In our school we usually have three days of school then a four day weekend. This is a perfect amount of time to spend helping our kids (and us!) to settle in from our summers. When I moved from teaching middle school science to teaching in a Title 1 Literacy fifth grade classroom, my team leader told me that when things weren’t going quite right and/or feeling quite right to pull out a book and read aloud. That was almost ten years ago and it is still one of the best pieces of advice given to me as an elementary teacher. I say jitters might fall into this category of “not feeling quite right”. So while we plan fun, get to know you, relaxing first day lessons and activities, we  are all certainly also planning what we want to read aloud to our kids.

Safety, seeing ourselves in books, laughter, community, hope…these are things we look for in the books we choose to begin our year with. I just watched a video shared by a fellow teacher. It is by  Chimamanda Adichie, a novelist from Nigeria. She shares what it’s like to be a black child and read books about white, middle class children. Her message is clear, strong, and articulate, “We need more than one story.” If you’d like to watch her Ted Talk you can view it here  This talk has certainly reminded me of the need to have books in my classroom library that all my kids can find themselves in. Books with girls and boys as the brave ones, the kind ones, the ones who struggle and succeed. Books about children of color, immigrants, refugees, migrant workers, homeless, middle class, with parents in jail or with mental illness. Books about children who are gay or live with gay parents. Books about children who are transgender. A few years ago I had a student with two mothers. When she spotted a book in our library about a child with two mothers she of course was immediately attracted to it. It lived in her desk for most of the school year. She saw herself in that book and she saw that she was ok. That is one powerful way we can begin to create a safe classroom.

As we begin to prepare for our school year I am reminded of the importance to take time to slow down, enjoy the last few days of summer and the warmth and beauty it has to offer and then slowly think of fun things for your new students to do when they arrive. Create a first day that will make them want to come back on the second day. I’m thinking I may start the year with the book, The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman. It’s funny (hysterical actually), highlights that everyone has a talent to contribute, the power of cooperatively working together, creative problem solving, and empathy. What more could we possible want in a book? Then we will use those skills that are highlighted to create something together.

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Make this a great year for you and your students,




8 thoughts on “We All Get the Before School Jitters

  1. Mary, Yes, I have the jitters too. After a lovely, relaxing summer, last night was the first poor night’s sleep I had all season. I started teacher meetings today, and I guess I don’t feel ready either. I am taking away two recommendations from you the Ted Talk by Adichie and The Dunderheads. I don’t know either one. Thank you!

    I love the read aloud advice you received. It’s been true for me too. When I came to a new country and started teaching Kindergarten in the middle of the year to non-English speakers, read alouds were my sweet saving grace in the day. It was sometimes the only time I felt like I connected with my students as a group. It was a lovely experience. Thanks for sharing!


    • Good luck this year Denise. Those darn jitters can really cause problems. I too didn’t sleep well last night. Isn’t it funny how every year it’s the same. I hope you like the TED Talk and Dunderheads. I enjoyed the talk and love the book.
      Yes, isn’t read aloud just our magic time of the day. I can’t imagine a day without it.
      Have a great year Denise.

  2. Good luck this year! What a gorgeous masala to begin your shared journey as a community. Chimamanda Adichie is a wonderful author to begin with… Keep us posted on your journey,

  3. What a super post. I’m awake at 4:30 as I get ready for a workshop with teachers and admins. We all get the jitters. I live the Ted Talk by Chimamanda Adichie. Last spring my book group read her most fabulous novel, Americanah. I don’t know the Fleischman book but will check it out. Have a fabulous start to the school year next week 🙂

    • Thanks MaryAnn,
      I just finished Americanah. I loved it too. I found myself putting it down on my lap to reflect on her words, her perspective, her experiences. So different from anything I’ve ever experienced. I feel it was a very important read. As far as Fleischman…I LOVE all his books. We will also read his book, SeedFolks, together. We also read his Joyful Noise, Poems for Two Voices book later in the year. He’s fabulous. I’d like to hear what you think of him.
      Thanks again and hope you have a good year this year,

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