My First Day: Students, teachers return to the classroom

As parents walked excited or nervous children to bus stops last Tuesday morning, teachers prepared their classrooms, arranging desks and supplies in anticipation of their newest class’ arrival.

By the start of this school year, Heather Rogers, who has five children with ages ranging from 18 to 10, had her family’s back-to-school routine well established. Her youngest child, Jessica, is a fifth grader at C.E. Curtis Elementary School.

“I have five and she’s my baby,” Rogers said of Jessica as she waited for her at the bus stop Monday. “At this point, getting her up and off is easy.

“This year was easy. It was the first time she attended school without a sibling. … This is the first year they seem to like their bus driver.”

Jessica said she had a good first day of school last week, though her teacher recently had a baby and is not back yet.

“I actually like waking up early for the first day,” she said.

By July, Rogers said, she’s usually planning for her children’s return to the classroom, and “picking up school things here and there.”

“I like to plan ahead,” she said. “It takes a big chunk of change just to get the school supplies.”

Jessica was actually excited for school to start, she said. By the time mid-summer rolls around, everybody’s bored, Rogers said.

“Like the few weeks before school I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m ready for school,’” Jessica said.

Rogers still remembers what it was like to put her first child, who graduated from Matoaca High School last year, on the bus for her first day of school.

“It was devastating,” she said. “It’s a very sad and proud moment all rolled into one. You are excited to see them grow up and you’re sad to see them grow up.”

Jessica, who loves math, said she had a very nice teacher her first year of school. She also made a new friend her first day of kindergarten, she said.

“Right when I walked in I saw this cute guy … ,” she said, laughing. “I really didn’t know what I was doing, so I asked him out.” The two have remained friends through elementary school.

At C.C. Wells Elementary School in Chester last week, third-grade teacher Susan Wilson had her first day at a new school; Wilson, a second-year teacher, taught third grade at J.B. Watkins Elementary School last year.

“I always start off all organized in the morning,” she said, and the afternoon, once the students have gone, is recovery time. This year’s first day “was still a little hectic, but I felt more prepared this year,” she said.

“It went as smoothly as it could for the first day,” said Wilson, who is still learning her way around the school. “I got someone who’d been here last year to be the line leader.”

Many of the questions she received from students were about homework, she said. Third grade is the first year they use the agenda, which helps them keep track of assignments, she said.

“I was amazed at all the homework questions,” she said. They also asked “tons of questions” about Wilson, who is pregnant.

The first few days of school are, at this age, about establishing rules and routines, she said. From day one, it’s important to set those expectations. On the first day, Wilson had each of her students sign the classroom rules, “kind of like a contract,” she said.

“As you get those established … they know when to raise their hand and when to listen,” she said. “It’s learning to forget their old routine from last year and learn a new one.”

Every year brings its own challenges, she said, as teachers get to know their students and their learning styles.

“Well, the 2 percent pay cut is definitely going to be a challenge for everyone,” she said.

But, Wilson was excited to return to the classroom.

“I was very excited because I was hanging out at home all summer,” she said. “This morning, when my alarm clock was going off, however, that was a different story.”

As for the students, “you could tell that some of them are excited, some of them are a little somber,” she said. “Hopefully your energy transfers to them.”

There aren’t really ordinary days for teachers, Wilson said.

“Teaching, it’s never the same,” she said. “You always have something different going on.”

Near the end of the first week of classes, L.C. Bird High School Principal Beth Teigen said it had “been a great week.”

“The kids came back, and they were excited to be here,” Teigen said Thursday. At a faculty meeting at the end of the day, “there were only positive comments.”

“Just everyone was positive,” she said. “It was really nice, because I know we’ve come off all the budget woes.” Though the 2 percent pay cut has impacted teachers, “I don’t think it will impact the students in the building,” she said. The teachers still “have a passion about what they’re doing,” she said.

At the high school level, the goal is to make students feel welcome in the school on the first day, she said.

“The other thing is to remind them this is a fresh year, a fresh start,” she said. “Kind of our message to them is that this is their job these 180 days,” and they need to get involved in school life and activities.

“It’s just exciting to be back and it’s flying by very quickly,” she said. “It’ll be Thanksgiving and winter break before we know it.”

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