Thursday, August 9, 2007

It’s the first day of school for many first-time teachers around the area

Debbie Northdruft speaks to a group of teachers gathered at Oxford Middle School. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star

They have classrooms instead of lockers, they assign the homework rather than doing it, and they don’t dread the end of summer vacation.

But apart from those differences, new teachers approach the first day of school with the same feelings of nervousness and anticipation as their students.

Alabama adds about 4,000 new teachers every year, but 50 percent leave teaching after four years, according to the State Department of Education. In response to this attrition, Governor Bob Riley announced Wednesday the formation of a statewide teacher mentoring program that will pair experienced and first-year teachers.

Riley has secured $4 million in funding for the program, and each mentor teacher will receive $1,000. Calhoun County, Talladega County, and Blount County already have mentoring programs for new teachers.

Some of this year’s 4,000 new teachers begin their careers at area schools today, but they don’t appear worried about whether they’ll still be enthusiastic four years from now. They were all smiles as they put the finishing touches on their classrooms Wednesday.

Kathryn Ball, a first-year kindergarten teacher at Alexandria Elementary School, decorated her classroom with a jungle theme. An inflatable monkey sits atop one shelf, and bright colors adorn everything in the room.

“I feel pretty good about (the first day of school) right now,” Ball said, adding that she felt more stressed last week. She has spent several weeks decorating her classroom, but her preparations began much earlier: she has been collecting children’s books for two or three years.

Brandi Russell, a new third-grade teacher at Alexandria Elementary, said being a new teacher can feel “overwhelming.” But Russell – whose colleagues tease her for being constantly cheerful – was quick to emphasize how excited she feels about the year.

“Tomorrow is the day that I start changing lives,” said Russell, who decided to become a teacher after she was thrown into a classroom while volunteering at a vacation Bible school.

She’s spent a month preparing her third-grade classroom.

“You don’t realize they don’t come ready-made,” she said.

Her students might not realize it either. Russell’s mother sewed curtains for the room and trendy denim seat sacks that look like the back of a pair of jeans.

Teachers elsewhere express the same combination of excitement and nervousness as Russell and Ball.

Sherita Andrews, a 2002 graduate of Oxford High School who will begin teaching ninth grade math there this year, said she worries she’ll have trouble establishing connections with her students’ parents because she looks young.

But Andrews is also looking forward to being back at Oxford.

“It feels great to have an opportunity to work with some of my old teachers,” she said.

The new teachers view being at the front of the classroom as just as much of a learning experience as being behind a desk, Russell said.

“Teaching is the best way to learn.”

Staff writer Markeshia Ricks contributed reporting from Montgomery.

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