The alarm goes off at 5:45 a.m. and a jittery flutter of excitement fills my body as I get ready for the first day of school. The morning routine is familiar — shower, shave, eat a quick breakfast, make sure my son is dressed and ready for his first day of 5th grade. Then I pack a salad, some almonds and a couple of apples into my bag, hop on my bicycle and make the 20-minute ride to work. I rehearse the day’s lesson in my head as I pedal along.
The bell rings promptly at 8:05, and I watch the first round of students stream in, some looking confused, some looking tired, a few trying to look tough. All students are required to take my Health Education class during 9th grade. It’s a one-semester class, so I will teach half of the freshmen this semester and half during the second semester, which starts in January.
The room is the definition of diversity. The 156 students I’ll see today are Chinese, Mexican, Samoan, Vietnamese, Brazilian, Honduran, Caucasian, African-American, Filipino and multiracial. They come from about 25 different middle schools — mostly public, but there are a few students who’ve gone to private or religious schools their whole lives and are just now starting in public school. Another handful of students are recently arrived immigrants from Asia and Latin America who are attending school in the United States for the first time.
I start class by having students announce three things: which middle school they attended, what they like to be called, and one healthy thing they like to do. This helps them start to get to know one another, and gives me an idea who I’m working with.
I ask what they like to be called because I teach a lot of students who have Chinese names like “Wenying” but go by nicknames like “Timmy” or “Henry.”
Asking about the healthy things they do gives me a chance to connect them with activities in the school (for example, letting the students who say they like running know that about the cross-country team is recruiting) and gives me a chance to slide in some mini-lectures on the importance of sleep and breakfast.
Once they’ve all had a chance to talk, we go over our school’s complicated bell schedule and get to the “do now,” a quick writing prompt that I use to kick off every class. Today’s questions: “How do you define “health”? What topics do you think (or hope) we will cover in health education class?”
I take their answers and create a mind map on the board, making a visual representation of what they think the class should be all about. The picture in this post shows what one class came up with – and it’s a pretty good representation of what’s coming up in class.