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Back to School: A Parent’s Perspective on First Day of School Nerves

I’ve been lucky. I work for K¹². I worked for NASA. I taught some of the best students in physics and math at several schools. But a couple weeks ago, they came.

The First Day of School Nerves.

My son, who is in eighth grade and is a home learner, got them too. Make no mistake, it has been awesome to have so many moments that we have shared in the past. Times at the Franklin Institute in the rain, or at the Solar Decathlon are times that we will always remember. But on that Monday evening (due to Labor Day it was not Sunday), he came to me and said “Dad, should I be scared?” My 6’2″ son who is 12 years old and who has me as his teacher wanted to know if he should be “scared”!

I have to admit I felt it too. We might be seen as ready, polished veterans of home learning. It makes me wonder where it comes from…why do students, parents and teachers have those jitters? The answer that I reflected on made sense but provided little comfort at first.

In our culture we draw such a distinction between learning and education. Learning happens all of the time. PJ and I share some time, for example, playing World of Warcraft (WoW). In the game, we have explored math, economics, conflict, team building, and a variety of other learning topics. Are we ever nervous that we might play WoW the next day? Never!

But education is seen as formal, structured. The “gun” goes off, and from that point we are off to the races. So much of this is cultural conditioning and speaks to the formality of the process. Once the formal school year begins, it is much like a long trek. To some extent, it is a journey. From my childhood I remember the sweet anticipation the night before a big trip. The more I thought about it, the more that feeling that PJ and I shared the night before the big first day is really that of taking a long trip, most importantly, together.

So, as school starts this year, I think we can look at the excitement of this year as that of embarking on a great journey. As great a student as he is, and as experienced as I am, maybe those first days are the best of all human feelings: we are doing something great, so let’s get going! I could just be trying to make the best of something…maybe fear is fear!  But as your students roll around on Sunday night and cannot sleep well—or maybe that happens to you as an adult—remember it’s the journey, not the destination. It’s hope, not fear. Finally, it’s opportunity and freedom, not the rigid, old school feelings of education that lie ahead in the next many months.

Have you ever been through this? Comment on what you went through and your reflections, or feel free to comment on mine above!

This post originally appeared on the former K12 blog, ThinkTank in September 2010.

This article was updated August 2015


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Patrick Keeney

Patrick (Pat) Keeney, Director of College and Career Planning for HS Product Management, is a career educator who has spent time in the classroom, consulting, launching a company, and with K12. Pat has also been a learning coach many years, and has seen the K12 experience from that perspective. Although he is presently in Product Management, Pat served for almost 7 years as part of the K12 Product Development group where he was the lead instructional designer on many high school math and science courses, and helped in designing games like X-germz. Prior to his time with K12, Pat was a consultant at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and founded an online education company. He also spent 17 years teaching in classrooms in Maryland and Pennsylvania, teaching high school mathematics and science, primarily physics. Pat’s interests range from basketball, a sport that he played and coached, to chess. He finds that games are more than time wasting activities but are one of the best ways that people learn about and simulate the world of experiences.

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