When I was going to graduate school, we were taught that our first experiences with a new school may be symbolic of the school culture and what we may expect throughout the year. It is also a key to how parents and kids may feel about coming into those four giant walls we call school.
By the way, if you are planning on being a school psychologist, you better get used to inserting yourself at brand new schools all the time. In 6 years, I have been deployed to over 25 different schools and assigned 12 schools as “my sites.” Sometimes, in any given day, I am doing a play-based assessment with play-do with a 2 year old in the morning, talking about drugs with a high school student at lunch, and in the afternoon having a meeting about a 5th grader with reading comprehension difficulties. The day I forget where I am and ask a 2 year old what types of drugs they’re doing is the day I need to retire.
Here is a sampling of some first days at new schools. I must say, my first impressions were usually right:
Haides Middle School: Door was bolted shut with giant padlock and I couldn’t get in. Did not feel welcome. I never did get a bathroom key in 4 years. Had to either go get key from secretary whenever I had to go, or go to neighboring coffee shop because the kids’ bathrooms violated every health code I could think of.
Haides Elementary School: Child throwing giant tantrum in main office because she found out she was retained. Someone pretending to be a parent goes through the whole school and steals all the laptops. That year, I saw many meltdowns. And I was unable to set down laptop for one year because I didn’t have a key to the resource room.
Middle School X: At staff meeting, introduce self as School Psychologist and room erupts in applause. Some expectations may have been a bit high at this school. Especially since I was there one day a week. This year, I have an intern and we end up having to share the one key to our office (located just outside of Beruit, by Portable 247). We texted all year, “Where R U? R U coming back to the office soon? Need 2 get in."
Haides High School: Graffiti on door entry. Can’t get anyone’s attention in main office to find out where the Principal is. Finally get attention, and am told that there is no office space for school psychologists, and be sure to move my car every hour to avoid getting a ticket.* I never got a key to my not-office and never put down my heavy bag of test kits for one year. My right arm was totally buff.
Middle School Y: Principal shows me my “office” and I see this:
If you can’t read it, it’s says, “B****.” I thought, “Oh no, this year is going to be full of fun surprises like this.” But then, my principal gave a wry smile and said point-blank, “Of course, that’s no reflection on you. Apparently the last psychologist was not a hit. I’ll get some 409.” I couldn’t help but laugh. I was just excited to have an office at all. Her reaction was so unflappable, I knew that she would be a calm Principal. Later on that day, she took pictures of all the staff, provided us lunch, and we shared our vision for the school. I knew she would listen and be supportive. And I was right.
And the other day, I got my very own key to my very own office. Sure, it’s Spring Break now, but my initial impressions were right. I’m one of them. When the secretary proudly presented the key, I bust into that song from Annie, “I Think I’m Gonna Learn to Like it Here.”**
*L’il suburban me was so ill prepared for urban parking issues. One hour parking? Street sweeping? What’s that? Seriously, I’m supposed to move my car 7 times a day? **In my head.