Tomorrow will be my twentieth “first day of school”. I have had many teachers, some excellent, and some a little less excellent. As I draw on my personal experience in planning to teach my classes tomorrow, I can not remember how those master teachers in my memory began their first classes. I keep mulling over the question “How should I begin the year?” Should I make them laugh or tremble? Perhaps it would be best to start by getting to know them as individuals and memorizing their pictures; or maybe I should leave them with an impossible riddle they will continue to mull over twenty years from now. Or should I sketch out the “bigger picture” of why they should bother with the study of history and my class? There is the adage “Don’t smile until Christmas” which is an honest and worthy piece of advice as I still look as though I am an adolescent. If I am not mean, will they take me seriously? While I used to have my outfit for the first day of school picked out months in advance, I have yet to glance at my closet. I have been preoccupied with this first impression and what to do with it. The Dalai Lama said, “Sometimes one creates a dynamic impression by saying something, and sometimes one creates as significant an impression by remaining silent.” Perhaps I should just stay quiet and wait for one of them to say something…wouldn’t that be dramatic? And “awk” as my students will say. The truncated version of “awkward” (while incredibly lazy) is fitting for I would most certainly blush as I tried to stand my ground without speaking. In sum, first days are awkward– “Firsts” of anything are awkward. Confidence is a slippery thing, one minute you have it and the next a comment laced with innuendo has swept that bravado out of your chest. I think the one mantra I will continue to live by with my students is “do not be a phony”, because they will know. The beauty of Salinger’s honest teenager is that he asks people to just be themselves, in fact he demands it. So on the eve of my twentieth first day of class I am choosing to be myself. No gimmicks. Although I am far too inexperienced to give advice, I think this is the fatal mistake the less than excellent teachers make.