A new school year -- and a new career

Rookie: A first-grade teacher at Mount Airy Elementary School prepares her room, and herself, for her first class.

Mount Airy

August 24, 2004|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

Lockers need to be labeled, the calendar needs to be posted, and the nametags need to be laminated for the desks. But Natalie Herrick, who is starting her first year of teaching, is most excited about Monday, when she will meet her pupils.

Yesterday was her first full day at Mount Airy Elementary School, where she is one of seven first-grade teachers and the only new one. Her day started with an orientation for all teachers in the cafeteria, but Herrick was concerned about getting her classroom prepared for the pupils, who will be back in less than a week.

"I'm a little nervous, but also excited," said Herrick, who will teach first grade in Room 203. "The classroom is pretty much empty until the kids get here. That's what really makes it."

As the 23-year-old recent Towson University graduate surveyed her room-in-progress, she considered all of the things she must do in time for the 2 p.m. open house Friday.

One of them is displays for the walls, "so they don't look so boring." Another is labeling the lockers in the hallway - "it's a big deal [getting a locker], coming from kindergarten," she said. And she must decide on a layout for the classroom and display her learning guides on the bulletin boards.

"And I have a lot of laminating to do," she said.

With the help of fellow teachers - and a stash of supplies she inherited from the previous teacher - Herrick hopes to have everything in place in time for the open house, when she'll meet some of her pupils and their parents. Her mother has promised to pitch in later this week.

"I'm nervous about getting all this done before they get here" for the open house, Herrick said. "But I'm excited to meet the kids; that's the most exciting part. And the parents, too, because they'll be a big part of this year."

Herrick wants the room to be just right so the pupils can develop a sense of routine from the first day.

"I've heard that the first week of school is a prediction of how the rest of the year will go," she said.

Helping her get started is her mentor, April Burnett, who is in her second year of teaching first grade at Mount Airy.

"It's overwhelming at first, but I loved it," Burnett said of her first year.

Burnett said that "organization is a big key" and that Herrick will spend much of her first year figuring out what works for her and what doesn't in everything from devising lesson plans to setting up the classroom.

Burnett told Herrick that teaching is a rewarding career and "to hang in there, it's worth it - all the extra time spent after school, all the extra hours."

Mount Airy expects to greet about 735 pupils in kindergarten through fourth grade. Twenty-one of them will be in Herrick's class.

"There are challenges to first-year teaching because you're learning so many new things at one time," said Thomasina Piercy, starting her sixth year as principal of Mount Airy Elementary.

"What balances that is the enthusiasm and excitement of beginning your career, and working with children for which you are responsible," said Piercy, who has taught elementary school and college graduate courses.

"The research is showing us that more important than having the most current material and instructional strategies is to be able to have teachers who are committed, passionate and dedicated to children and learning," Piercy said.

"I'm looking forward to working with [Herrick]. I see in her a sense of genuineness and that commitment to learning," the principal said.

In addition to assigning each new teacher a mentor, Piercy meets with all of her school's new teachers regularly.

"We meet at least every other month formally, but we meet informally all the time" to guide them through such things as preparing report cards and communicating with parents, Piercy said. In addition, professional development sessions are held for all teachers in writing, math and reading.

"I'm trying to start planning what I'm going to be doing the first couple days and the first week," said Herrick, who grew up in Westminster and said she is excited about returning to Carroll County to teach.

Among her plans for the first week will be reading a book dealing with the first day of school.

"It's new [for the kids] being in first grade," she said. "I'm sure a lot of things will change."

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