My 60th First Day of School

In honor of the first day of school Arnie Cohen, Headmaster of Pacific Northern Academy, sent us this reflection on his years in education.  What are your memories of the first day of school?  Tell us in the comment section below.

Today is the first day of my 6oth year in school, and I still got up this morning before I had to and was at school at least an hour earlier than I needed to be.  There is an adrenaline rush that I get just knowing that my fellow students will be returning today.  Even though I am the Headmaster at Pacific Northern Academy, I count myself among the students because I know that I will continue to learn new things each and every day.

There is an amazing, yet regular, rhythm to each school year.  Sunny first days give way to the leaf-dropping chill of autumn and the bluster and snow of winter followed by the grime of breakup and the gradual warming of spring.  The years repeat, over and over, a uniquely circular time that allows every student, teacher and administrator to start fresh and new each school year.  Every year I amazedly watch staff and teachers prepare for the opening day as if it were their first year of teaching, meticulously setting up rooms and displays, ordering new supplies and texts, conjuring up new activities, using brand-new technology, and yet, realizing that the most important pieces of teaching are the smiling face, the caring word, the clear boundary, the sense of hope for each and every student in the classroom.  First days are always filled with hope.

Over the years I have watched so many students who have not conformed to school house expectations end up becoming amazing successes.  There was the young man named Shane, who for an entire year of high school sat under his desk.  Some of my colleagues could not abide his strange behavior and wanted him expelled from school, but others of us argued that he was quiet most of the time, and often participated brilliantly in the class from his home under his desk. Shane was going through a rough time at home; his parents had separated and his mother was in and out of the house for many months. Shane stayed at school; eventually he came out of his strange shell.  At the end of high school, Shane was admitted into one of the best engineering schools in the country and ended up earning a Ph.D.

I like students who are different, who learn differently, who challenge teachers and administrators, who think “outside the box.”  It is the lack of conformity, the unusual thought processes that are the hallmark of American ingenuity. Student who dream about “big ideas,” who think about the world in which they live, who exhibit empathy  for others, who take time to understand both their local community and their global community will be “thinkers of vision, courage, and integrity”(from the Pacific Northern mission statement).

Today is the first day of school.  The halls and classrooms are filled with the smell of fresh paint masked by a slight hint of disinfectant, but most of all they are filled with new beginnings, great expectations, joyful learning and constant hope.  I just hope I have enough vision, courage and integrity – as well as knowledge, passion and energy to assure that the faculty, staff and students who inhabit the halls of Pacific Northern Academy for the next 179 days have the best, most stimulating, exciting, energizing learning experiences possible. There is always hope on the first day of school.

About Arnie Cohen:

First and foremost, I am a teacher.  I have t aught on the university level, high school, middle school and elementary school.  I have spent 39 years in independent education, and I am currently the Head of School at Pacific Northern Academy in Anchorage.  Previously I served as Head of School at both Green Acres School in Rockville, Maryland and The Lamplighter School in Dallas, Texas.  Originally from Pennsylvania, I received my bachelor’s degree from Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA and my masters and doctorate degrees from The Ohio State University.