© 2017 paulwhankins

First Day of the Y.E.A.R and First Day F.E.A.R.

I have not changed classrooms. This is a picture of Room 407 in the Spring of 2011 before we would move in for the 2011-2012 school year.

This year will mark our sixth year in this classroom. And our seventh group. I came to the realization that my practice has now been divided right down the middle with seven groups in Room 210 and seven groups now in Room 407.

And first days always bring first day fears.

Don’t they?

Am I the only one who starts having the wrong room/no roster/no plan dreams a week in advance of the new year starting?

I didn’t think so.

Just thought I would ask. If I am alone in saying that the first day brings its own set of unique fears known only to teacher then you can stop reading right here.

You’re still here. You’re still reading. Then, let me lay this on you:

Your. First. Day. Is. Coming.


For the people in my immediate circle, that day is tomorrow. We have a professional development day on Monday, July 24 (goodbye any notion of sleep as I actually present two sessions on “close reading” with the literacy coaches). Tuesday offers a teacher work day in which we will put things away and in order in advance of the students coming in for their first day on Wednesday, July 26th.

I’m in a seventy-two hour window.

So, of what is there to be really be afraid?


Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education/English? Check.

Master’s Degree in Secondary Education/English? Check.

Teacher’s License is up to date? Check.


The paperwork is in order.


Perhaps it is the people work that is the cause of this trepidation.


This is my fourteenth first day. And I am nervous.


I am afraid.


I tell students in Room 407 that F. E. A. R. is False Evidence Appearing Real. That psychologists tell us that most of the things we worry about on a day to day basis will never happen to us.

So, what is the false evidence appearing real?

The kids won’t listen to me. Yes. The kids will listen to you.

The kids won’t like my class. You. You love the class. They have to learn it. And if you love it, they can at least like that. And, ultimately, come to like you a little bit too.

There’s so much to know. Do I know enough? Wait. I don’t know enough.

You know enough. Can you get them through that first class period? Get them a place to sit. Introduce yourself. Pass out books. Read something. Write something together. Rest on the notion that there is enough administrative stuff to get you through by default on the first day.

F. E. A. R.

It’s a powerful motivator on both sides of the desk. And it can be a limiter too.

It manifests in simple phrases like:

I’m not __________________ (fill in the blank) enough to be one of the “cool teachers.”

Okay. Paul. Your “cool ship” sailed years ago. Even its wake has settled upon some sandy beach of some uncharted island that is the vacation destination of no one. No one, mister.

The question here should be am I ___________________(fill in the blank) to do the work as effectively, efficiently, and earnestly enough so that at the end of the first day, just one student can come to an informal assessment that might read like, “I don’t know what to make of that last eighty-five minutes, but that guy seems committed to what he is doing.”

Thirteen trials and the first day of 2017 feels like the first day back in 2004.


F. E. A. R. rides a tandem bike with FAIL (fear pedals regardless of the fact that fail has bottle-necked the handlebar). And there are 13 Reasons Why you’ll fail on this fourteenth trial:

  1. Because you’re older.
  2. Because you wear glasses.
  3. Because you talk about things that no one else is really interested in. . .and you know this. You can sense it.
  4. Because you. . .read. . .a lot. Your blood type seems to be “ink.”
  5. Because you make art out of junk. Goodwill is your go-to. They know you by name. And your card number.
  6. Because you’re not as well-versed in the popular culture. And your kids did not watch Stranger Things.
  7. Because you don’t know which heroes camp with Marvel and which ones belong to DC.
  8. Because you cannot read music.
  9. Because you’re still not doing your best writing.
  10. Because you write poetry.
  11. Because you’re not as strong or fast as the others.
  12. Because talking in front of others before you have had a chance to know them is your cliff dive.
  13. Because. . .deep down. . .you do care what other people think. And this lends itself to a special brand of vulnerability.

And then, it hits you. . .the thirteen reasons why are the individual and collective nature of every person who will come into the room. You are not alone in any of these. In any of this. You get to be a part of it. You get to lead it.

And those thirteen points of F.E.A.R.? It’s going to make or break your Y.E.A.R.

Y. E. A. R.


Your Evaluation Ain’t Right.

Friend. . .your evaluation ain’t right.


Being older means you will have an experience that needs to be shared.

You’ve got at least thirty years on any kid who enters the room. Time will never make you equals.

Someone told you your glasses make you look like Drew Carey. And it was a good thing. A cultural connection.

There’s always one kid who stays after the bell to talk more about __________. Look for that kid. It’s younger you.

You didn’t invent “Nerdy.” There is a tribe for you. And for many of them coming into the room this year.

Art seems to be a natural community-builder. It’s a talking point from the first glance at something unique.

Look. You didn’t just appear in the world. There was a younger version of you. Again, look for that kid.

Did you go to see Spiderman: Homecoming as a good faith measure? Tell the kids you saw it (don’t tell them you did the Hero’s Journey schematic in your head while viewing the film. . .save that for later).

Are you the music teacher? No. Okay, then. Move on.

Do you write every day? Should the kids see that you have a process to the page too?

A poet who bench presses up to three hundred pounds? You contain multitudes. You are “Super Emily Whitman.”

You have something in common with your students and you’ll be considerate and sensitive to this.

Everyone has something at stake in the game. See the previous point. Refer often.








  1. Gae Polisner
    Posted September 17, 2017 at 12:23 PM | #

    I love this, Paul. Especially this: “I tell students in Room 407 that F. E. A. R. is False Evidence Appearing Real.”

    So smart. If you teach them nothing more, it has already been a successful year. Speaking of F.E.A.R. . . . every single time I release a new book. So I’m steeped in it. Praying the evidence is false. And on we go. (I believe the plus side of FEAR is that it keeps us striving to do better. So long as we don’t let it paralyze us!)

    Have a great year. Hope to meet this year’s Room 407 students. A piece of my heart lives there.

  2. newtoner
    Posted November 13, 2017 at 11:34 AM | #

    Love your blog. I think I ought to share this useful link with you. Use essay help if you are in need.

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