Higher Education: First Day of School

Barbara Jwanouskos is going back, back to school…

My pencils are sharpened. My cupboard is full of healthy (and non-healthy, yet convenient) foods. My class schedule is set and I’m ready to go! I think…

I remember being young and every year, even though summer was ending, just brimming with excitement that school was starting again. NERD! I loved it though. The first day of school is all about the realization that something is going to change during the course of the year. It’s recognizing that you will grow.

I think it’s so funny because how often do we look at feedback from others or opportunities for growth and think of it as a negative? I know there are times when we all think, “wow, I’m learning!” I’m talking about generally going in with a beginner’s mind set and maybe being a little nervous, but mostly just being happy that by the end of the year we’ll have made some sort of journey. Maybe we’ll look back on the first day as if it were the first step and remember, “wow, that really was the first day!”

Like I’ve mentioned before, I’ll be teaching for the first time this year. So I’m definitely on the flip side of the coin when it comes to experiencing the first day of school. Well, at least on Tuesday for a couple hours. I wonder what teachers think about on the first day of school too… Like in my mind, there have been no altercations. Everyone is über dedicated and not only does every assignment I’ve given them, but they totally want to do those assignments too, right? Am I right?

I’ve been talking to a couple folks about my syllabus lately. Mostly because I’ve probably been wasting WAY too much time on it. But, guys! Syllabus creation is super fun! There’s something about pre-planning that I LOVE!!! I don’t always get it right in the execution and I may not even finish, but before I press that red button, the plan is immaculate and beautiful in its construction.

One of the things I decided to differently with my syllabus in the last couple of weeks was change my approach to the class. My mind-grapes were blown away a week or two ago after I got a chance to train for not one, but two masters in martial arts (one in tai chi and one in kung fu). And these guys don’t know each other. Heck, their disciplines are seemingly on radically opposite ends of the spectrum, but both concentrate on securing the fundamentals before being able to move any further in the training.


Mind. Blown.

Seriously! Yes, it’s kind of a given that you have to know the basics, but from each one of these masters, the basics suddenly became the most advanced material you’ve ever seen. It was such an ah-ha moment that I realized this is what I should be teaching anyone who takes my “Introduction to Screenwriting” class. I asked myself what would I want my students to walk away with more than anything?

  1. The basics of storytelling
  2. The formatting of a screenplay
  3. Walking the path of a writer
  4. How to give and receive feedback

I re-orchestrated my syllabus so that it followed these basics and suddenly it was like I knew every lesson plan. Because the basics aren’t boring if you know how to use them right. The basics are literally the basis for why something works. So, instead of worrying about how they have to read this book or see that classic movie or write this many pages per week, I thought about what I liked the most and what I got the most value out of in treading the path so far. That’s all you can really give anyone, right? Just this disclaimer that “this is what works for me”.

I’m excited for the first day of school. Not just to attend new classes, but to take my first step on a new path of learning and growth. I have my classroom noted. My ideas ready. And, of course, my syllabus in hand.