School starts for teachers long before students arrive

Posted: Monday, August 27, 2001

The school year starts Wednesday, but classroom activities have been on the minds of some teachers since June. From beginners to veterans, those who want everything to start off right have been setting up their classrooms since early August.

More than a week before the bell was to ring for the first class at Harborview Elementary, Margie Beedle and Vivian Montoya were working to arrange their respective classrooms.

"We've both been here for a week and a half!" said Montoya, a 20-year veteran. "At 9 last night a parent knocked on my (classroom) window. I went to the window, and he was standing there with his daughter. 'When's the first day?' he asked. 'What do we bring?' "

Why would teachers, especially those with several years' experience, be working in their classrooms on a summer evening instead of traveling, reading or relaxing?

"I think about new stuff to keep things fresh," said Beedle, who has been teaching for 10 years.

One of the reasons her classroom was in an advanced state of organization is because she received a piano, which she plans to incorporate in her day's lessons with her second-graders.

"You can't do everything exactly the same," agreed Montoya. "That's what keeps you in teaching."

At Floyd Dryden Middle School, Samantha Johnson and Jeanette Sleppy, both eighth-grade English teachers, would agree. Johnson, a teacher for four years, was gazing deeply into her computer screen when she was interrupted by a visitor. She was busy revising previous years' materials to prepare for this fall.

"I'm always getting ready," she explained. "I've been thinking about it all summer. I like to read about new ideas and just to reflect. I'm still synthesizing it all to prepare for the new year."

Sleppy, a teacher for seven years, was so excited about starting anew, she tried getting into her classroom around the beginning of August. "Can you believe that? But I couldn't get into the room because they were cleaning."

Johnson and Sleppy have been working together to develop a program "to bring curriculum and standards together," explained Sleppy. "In fact, we've been working on this since last summer."

Their program involves a checklist for students to keep track of standards they've met, how they met them, when they met them and how well they met them.

"Students will always know where they are and be accountable," said Johnson.

Both agreed that the "quiet before the storm" of a new school year is exciting for teachers, because once the school year starts, the days become intense.

"I like the time to reflect. But for the time you do take off," said Johnson, pausing.

"Rejuvenate," Sleppy filled in.

At Juneau-Douglas High School, English teacher Cassidy Herding said she read "What a Writer Needs" during the summer, and plans to incorporate the material in class this year.

She said she started preparing for fall classes two weeks after school ended last spring. During the last few weeks of summer she moved into a new classroom and began working with her student teacher, Becky Hansen.

Preparation for next year is always on her mind, even though she's been in the classroom for nine years.

"Last year, I ran around with a notebook to write ideas down, things to use next year. At the end, I was already excited about fall," Herding said.

Hansen, too, has spent the last year preparing for the 2001-02 school year, and she will continue to take classes while team-teaching with Herding.

With a laugh, Herding told Hansen she has "some innovative stuff" to make their team effort a success, including journal exercises to explore students' voice in their writing. With Hansen's help, Herding will look at student writing "with a kind eye."

At Gastineau Community School, second-grade teacher Shirley Walkush had finished rearranging her classroom, setting up curriculum and making mailboxes for students more than a week before classes were to start. Such chores require about 40 hours of her time at the end of every summer. With days to go, everything appeared to be ready.

"Every year, students are like a box of Cracker Jacks," said Walkush, laughing. "There's a prize in every box."

Robert Driscoll is an educator and freelance writer who recently moved to Juneau.

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