There is no day like Day 1 of anything. It is the unknown. It is the unexperienced moment just ahead. For a teacher, there was Day 1 of teaching. Then as months or years pile up, there is Day 1 of a new term. No matter how much subject matter knowledge a teacher has, the first sight of an incoming class has its butterflies. The students have them, too. Everybody is thrown in to a new chemistry that hasn’t happened yet, and everyone gets to be a butterfly in the making—even the teacher.
The teacher knows the content respectably enough. The students need to know it, unless it is one of those subjects still offered that have nothing to do with certain students’ career goals. This is the best butterfly possibility of all; it reminds me of children trying a new food, or in education, perhaps a new recipe for an old food. With children, the insistence on trying a new food comes from the parent, who hopefully is willing to endure the rebellion. In college, the insistence is largely the fact that students see goals ahead impossible to attain without this temporary test of endurance in the classroom.
The one thing a teacher must never do is insist on the horrendous. For example, when our oldest son was a baby, my wife pureed delights like bananas and sweet potatoes and put them into plastic ice cube trays (this was the day before refrigerator icemakers). One night we had liver, and not wanting anything to go to waste, she … yes—she pureed some liver and made frozen liver cubes.
The test came at her parents’ house when we had eaten supper, and it was time to feed the baby. Out came the frozen liver cubes. Thawing and warming up the cubes introduced the moment. She kept aiming the spoon at the baby’s mouth, but the poor little fellow made the most horrible responses of avoidance, only to have the spoon come at him again. I was not the brave one. My wife’s dad suddenly stood up, took the spoon and jabbed it toward my wife’s mouth, saying, “Here, you eat some!” That was it. In all fairness to my wife, I have done many more dumb things than that, and her sainthood is not jeopardized by that one well-meaning, but ill-fated idea.
What I am getting at is this. Some entering students already have your class pegged as frozen liver cubes that you plan to foist upon them. You, on the other hand, see butterflies in the making. This apparent contradiction is why teachers get butterflies too, and not just the students.