Remember your first Day at School and the Shell you were in?

According to Merriam-Webster, the word Shell is a noun and a verb; however, we are most interested in it as a noun for this discussion.  As a noun, they say it is, and I quote 1a:  a hard rigid, usually predominantly calcareous covering or support of an animal and 6a:  an impersonal attitude or manner that conceals the presence or absence of feeling, which are the two closest definitions to what I will be talking about.  Throughout this article, I will talk about what a shell is in our lives, how it is formed, and why and how to get out of it.

How many of you recall your first day in pre-school, kindergarten, first grade, or high school?  It might not have been yesterday, but I bet you can place it like it was.  For me, the first day at high school, the more I wanted to come out of my shell, the more I stayed in it.  I’m not talking about being friendly, saying hello, being polite, etc. but opening up to want to get to know someone and become friends.

Before I share more of the story, let me elaborate more on what a shell is and why we go into them.  A shell is a demeanor or persona we take on to guard, block or defend who we are and seemingly protect ourselves from a perceived danger.  We all know that FEAR is (False Evidence Appearing Real); however, that first day, you could have fooled me.  Anytime someone starts a new job or moves to a new place, school, or surrounding, they may find themselves going to a shell.

It was about 7:45 AM when I arrived at my high school for the first day as a freshman, and many thoughts were cycling through my head:  what would it be like? Would I know anyone here? Would they be friendly, what would my teachers expect, do I know where all the classrooms are, is there enough time to get from each class to another with accounting for the time I need to change books, what will the homework be like, who will I sit with at lunch, etc.  Since my high school was prep high school, they did things differently than many other high schools.

First, we operated on a mod time system where each 15-minute block of time was called a mod, similar to what they do at college, and a seven-day cycle.  Thus, you guessed it, one more thing for me to be concerned about as I could no longer see if I was on time by looking in the hallway to see if other kids were moving about as we all moved at different times, which was confusing initially.

On the first day, we didn’t go to our lockers immediately as they were not assigned yet, and thus it started with a homeroom and orientation of how high school academic life would be for the next four years.  During homeroom, we all received a combination lock with its code in a box, and a sheet was passed around indicating our locker number and how to find it.  Then we each received another sheet with our schedule that told what classes we had, where they were located, what cycle day(s) they occurred, what time they started, and what time they ended.

Still, being the first day, we all moved through the schedule, going to our respective classes and being hi when we saw each other.  Then when we got to lunch, the shells started to form; who sat with whom, who sat alone, etc.  I remember getting my tray, walking through the cafeteria, and then sitting down with some of the people in a few of my classes.  I felt as though I got to know them a little, and having lunch with them would be at least an uncomfortable choice instead of sitting with others.  It was clear that I was in a shell as I didn’t want to talk to any of the others outside the immediate four I was sitting with.  Later, these four became my good friends in high school while I stayed in my shell for a while.

You might be asking why did I remain in my shell?  Great question and the reason was because I felt intimated by the others not sure why; maybe it was their body language or the speed of talking that I had no understanding of back then.  Again, I was cordial to everyone, saying good morning, hi, hello, or even asking a question like, “What room does Mrs. B’s Science Class meet but never anything more than low-risk questions about facts I would ask anyone.

Whether you are a new person at a school, a job, or even a new neighborhood, it is not uncommon for people to be in a shell till they feel comfortable enough with you to share.  Thus no one likes to be in a shell, so why not take some steps to get out of it or help others want to leave theirs?  The key to remember is not to force anyone but make them feel welcome, comfortable and not judge.

You can do many things to break your shell and help others eliminate theirs.  Remember to start your day with a good nutritious breakfast and a great attitude of gratitude.  Set a goal to initiate one-two conversations per day, and it is ok to have a few questions ready such as How is your 2nd class going? How do you like the view from your new office? You are in my 6th-period chemistry class; how do you like the course so far?  Having good questions to start a conversation will take some pressure off you.

Conversations are great; remember to be approachable and ensure your body language says that.  Make eye contact with someone, and smile as you walk from class to class.  A great trick is to sit in the first row and say hi to each person in your class.  If you want to bridge the connection outside of your class or work to a more solid friendship, suggest hanging out at activities you both have a common interest in, such as volunteering, ball game, hiking, volleyball, and bowling.

Now, I know I have you on the edge of your chair, wondering what happened to me; did I stay in my shell with the rest of my class?  Well, the answer is no. I decided that if I wanted to connect with more people, make more friends, and share experiences, I should become a joiner.  What is that person that joins things such as organizations, events etc?  After my second week, I saw that the school had requested students to join various organizations, including the student council.

Yes, you guessed it, I decided to run for student council as a class representative, and during my campaign, I made many friends that would barely even say hello to me.  Many were impressed that I was taking such a risk and offered their support as they said I would be a great class representative.  Two weeks later, the election took place; I won, and yes, many others became my friends.  I made friends during the campaign after I won, and at many events, I helped plan, such as dances, movie nights, outings, etc. 

My story will help motivate you to come out of your shell and help others get out of theirs.  Thus we can learn that being a shell can be temporary if you take the suggestions I have given you to escape it.  Also, if you are staying in your shell because you feel you are not enough, stop that thinking, apply yourself, and many will support you.  Please don’t do it for that only reason; do it for you, as you are more powerful than you think you are!


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