Countdown to the first day

Readiness: Teachers are spending the last days of summer vacation in school, dressing up their classrooms.

August 25, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

The Clarksville Elementary School halls are empty and quiet on this summer afternoon, except for the occasional tap of a shoe against the shiny tile.

On Monday, that will change as more than 400 pupils emerge from school buses and minivans, filling Clarksville's classrooms and embarking on the academic year, a scene that will be repeated across the Baltimore region.

For teachers, that means a final sprint of preparation -- decorating bulletin boards, swapping ideas with other teachers and doing mental run-throughs of the first day. These last hours before the first bell rings are the calm before the storm.

"I guess it is a very anxious time," says Ryan Schaaf, a new third-grade teacher at Clarksville.

Schaaf is among the thousands of Maryland teachers preparing for that first bell.

Public schools open Monday in Baltimore and in Howard, Carroll, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. Harford County schools open Sept. 2.

Howard County is expecting an additional 1,000 students, up from an enrollment last year of 41,000. Before the big day, teachers are taking advantage of the dwindling quiet time to get their classrooms in order.

As Eric Clapton's "Change the World" wafts from a small portable stereo in her Clarksville classroom, first-year teacher Meghan Hearn arranges colorful laminated decorations that will become teaching tools such as a "word wall" for the first-graders she will teach.

"Everything I put up is like, `Are they going to like this?' " says Hearn, dressed in shorts, her hair held back with a band.

"My son is going to be here later on this afternoon to give me the once-over."

Hearn spent nine years in retail management before deciding to get a master's degree in education and become a teacher.

"The hours are horrible," she says of retailing. "You're never done there. With education and learning, you're never done either, but you've touched somebody. You know you have."

Like many new teachers, Hearn has borrowed ideas from veterans, adding several of her own.

"I started writing down my ideas when I was in class," she says. "Every time I got an idea in class, I jotted it down. I wanted lots of ideas. I didn't want to be lost when I started."

Down the hall, Schaaf is readying a cramped, shared space that he will use before his class moves into a portable classroom. He has a new teacher's anxieties.

"You're going to be overwhelmed at first," he says. "There are a lot of people here for you, a lot of aid. It's very lucky that I have a good team here."

He's ready for all that befalls new teachers, according to orientation advisers: anxiety, disillusionment and burnout, reflection and the relief at year's end. Now, he's surrounded by globes, paper letters and a construction-paper dragon that will put his stamp on his classroom.

"It's going to be challenging and fun at the same time," Schaaf says. "I student-taught third grade, and I really loved the age. The kids are in such an ideal stage."

Cindy Stitz's first-grade corner is filled with eye-popping adornments for the first day of school. Stitz has had 19 years to go through this drill, and she appears to have the moves down pat.

"There's always change," she says of each year. "You're always looking for new ideas, always looking for a better way to do something. It doesn't stay the same."

Many of her peers have taken administrative jobs over the years, but August after August, Stitz is where she feels most effective, in a classroom with tiny chairs.

"I enjoy working with children," she says. "This is where I belong."

Pub Date: 8/25/99

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