One of the things I like best about my role facilitating the EKU Writing Project Summer Institute each year is power of the first day for each year’s fellows. I think about this now because we had Orientation on Monday evening, that chance for this year’s fellows to come together, to get their feet wet, to have some of their questions answered and fears dispelled while new questions and new fears rose to take their place. There’s a fear and a wonder with first days. And I realize that my job – in the college classroom each semester, in the Writing Project each spring – is to stoke those first days, to let them linger a little bit. For that fear and wonder is a good thing. It might make us feel a little anxious, it probably causes our blood pressure to increase a bit, and it always leaves some scratching their heads wondering just what they’ve gotten into, but it also energizes us. First days are exciting, pregnant with possibility, as the saying goes.
At the same time, though, I realize that Orientation is an incomplete first day for the Writing Project. After all, these fellows already participated in interviews, nerve-wracking in their own right, when fate is yet to be decided. And they still have the Introductory Workshop, that day that by its very name is a start to something. Then there’s the actual first day, when the Summer Institute begins in earnest and leads into, for us at EKU at least, the whole month of June.
The thing that all these first days have in common though is the sense of expectation. The opening of new books. The careful organization of necessary materials. The questions about what will happen when and what matters most. It’s clear, when I field fellows’ questions during Orientation that our role as teachers doesn’t make us any more comfortable with first days than we might be otherwise. Instead, it might make us more expectant; after all, we stand before students every year (or every semester) in the position of authority – knowledge is power, and on the first day of school teachers have the knowledge and students sit at our mercy. So maybe that’s the lesson of Orientation. First of all, that privilege is unavoidable. Somebody has to know what’s going on (some of my colleagues might refute that that describes me), and the rest have to be there to find space to move from passive to active participation. So maybe this thought will allow us to empathize with students a little bit more come August or September, when they fill our classrooms and look to us with varying degrees of eagerness and dread. We know they have questions, because we do. We know they have fears; we do too. But we know they can find their way, and it’s our job to help them do it, from the first day.