leadership, life, Teaching, Uncategorized

The First Day of School

Growing up in the Bertrand household, the first day of school was a BIG deal. I’m talking like a ceremonious event.

On the eve of the first day of class, each of my sisters would have at least three complete outfits laid out in their rooms – and my siblings and I would go around and cast a vote on which outfit we thought was the best to wear on day #1. I have seven sisters so it took a little bit of time to make the rounds.

We had a walk-in closet that we dubbed the “school supply closet”. My mom stocked it with every supply imaginable. I can remember all of us grabbing notebooks and pens, sitting around the table together labeling folders and double-checking lists to ensure we had the correct supplies for the specific requests of each teacher.

There was great anticipation. There was buzz. There was unknown. There was excitement. Yes, a house of nerds!


I’m currently in my 6th year as a faculty member at SMU, and I must say, I still get excited for the 1st day of class.

About a week out, my mind starts to get preoccupied thinking about the 1st day. I always seem to feel the weight of it, or rather the responsibility of it, coming on.

There’s knowledge to convey, passion to share, lives to change.

I visualize how I want to be and how I want to improve from years past. I start to get excited about the great privilege and opportunity it is when another human being allows you to come in and guide them. I don’t take that for granted.

And then there are those that don’t let you in. But you can tell they are contemplating the idea of it. The dynamic is so interesting to me. Every day as a teacher you are selling yourself (whether you realize it or not), your ideas, you.

To be yourself and authentic with the students might be the greatest gift. It might give another human being “permission” to be himself/herself. The confidence you bring to the table…it can be borrowed by others, temporarily, until they fully realize their own true power.

It’s been challenging to find myself as a teacher; it takes time. And when the 1st day gets nearer, it represents another opportunity of getting it right and experimenting with a way of being that leads to maximum results (i.e., me being true to myself AND the students optimally engaged & learning).

As a teacher, nothing is more important than being clear on what I’m committed to in the course, for each individual. All actions I take during the semester come from this original commitment.

In the first few years of teaching, I was just trying not to drown. Being a newbie to the professor environment, I had two areas of focus: 1) don’t get taken advantage of by students, and 2) do a complete a job as possible (do my best)!

Oh my, how exhausting that approach was. Making sure my fists were clenched (see above focus area #1) didn’t allow many opportunities for opening my heart.

Instead of caving into the fear for what the students “might” do, what if I replaced it with excitement for developing their potential?

What if I spent that time and energy on exploring ways to connect and engage, instead of allowing the unconscious fear-based approach to take over?

Clearly I’m a work in progress. Yet by knowing that I’m making progress and constantly improving my craft, it keeps me engaged and passionate for each semester.

The steepest learning curve (for me) has been managing the classroom. When my mind is constantly rattling to keep things ” in order”, I’ve noticed myself (and the students) having less fun. As my classroom management skills have improved and as I’ve learned to let go of control, I’ve noticed it has opened up a completely new and wonderful space for learning.


I mentioned earlier that nothing is more important than identifying what your commitment is on the outset.

I ponder “How can I best step up to the plate to make a difference in their lives?” One word: CARE. Make an effort.

Mostly my commitment is to impress the importance of having character and striving for excellence.

I do my best to be an example of how to be an effective coach and teacher – to model being positive & calm under pressure – and to share my gifts in efforts to develop them, that they might reach their potential (and in doing so, I reach mine). To infuse fun, playfulness, laughter and humor into my approach. Because if you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong!

Another thing I’ve noticed about myself is that at times I will use up a lot of mind space on the “lost sheep” in class – to the point that it affects my energy and enthusiasm. These folks shouldn’t be forgotten, but I need to check in with myself & monitor my energy levels more frequently – and remind myself  to honor and focus on what’s going WELL in class (e.g., the students that are engaged and loving it)!

Teacher or student – the first day is a chance to start anew, put your best foot forward, and to embrace a learning environment where we all come out better for having been together.


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