Teachers' first year is an education in itself

May 14, 2001

Teachers' first year is an education in itself

Editor's Note: The Morning Herald interviewed three first-year Berkeley County teachers at the beginning of the current school year. In this story, staff writer Bob Partlow of the Martinsburg, W.Va., bureau interviews the same three teachers to find out what they have learned working in the classroom during their first year.

By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Students aren't the only ones who learn in the classroom.


Three first-year Berkeley County teachers, who brought their enthusiasm and love of children into the classroom last fall, said their first experience proved tiring, rewarding - and educational.

"You learn a lot more in your first year teaching than you did in four years of college - a lot more," said Andrew Fincham, 24, who taught health to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students at Martinsburg South Middle School.

"It is exhausting," said Pamela Smailes, 24, who taught a fifth-grade class at Potomac Intermediate School. "There's just so much preparation that goes into it. Until you enter a classroom with 26 students, you don't understand how much preparation goes into it - every child, every day."


"When I actually got into it, there was a lot more than I did expect," said Heather Felder, 25, who taught four autistic children at Tomahawk Elementary School. She talked about the kind of testing and paperwork that needs to be done, especially for children in special education.

One thing Felder learned this year was that teaching autistic children may not be her niche.

"It's been very rewarding, but very challenging," she said. "I've always been told it takes a special person to be a special education teacher. It takes an extra special person to work with children with autism."

For Fincham, dealing with the emotions and diversity of kids from sixth grade through eight grade taught him something.

"I learned a lot of patience, that's the big thing," Fincham said. "It's like 'I want patience and I want it now' - that kind of deal."

He added: "This is one of the most difficult age groups to teach. The hormones are running wild. And there's such a diversity. Most eighth-graders are shaving. In sixth grade, they're not very long out of grade school."

Like the other two teachers, he talked about the paperwork, the time required to just get ready.

"It's quite an ordeal, to say the least," he said.

"You have to learn how to schedule your time," Smailes said.

When interviewed for a story at the start of the school year last fall, the teachers talked about serving as role models for their students - and wanting to help make a difference in their lives. None of that has changed.

For Felder, progress for her children comes in smaller steps: The day in March one of her students said her name for the first time without prompting; helping a child learn to tie his shoes.

"I enjoy working with the kids," she said. "I get hugs and handshakes. It's kind of nice to be recognized in that fashion."

"I like impacting the kids," Fincham said. "It's such an important time. This is the time they start experimenting with unhealthy things. It feels good just to be there to talk to. I feel proud to be able to answer questions for them."

"It's exciting," Smailes said. "When they succeed, it makes it all worthwhile."

All three teachers said they came out of their first year with their enthusiasm for teaching intact.

"It's very demanding and a very tough job, but it's very rewarding," Fincham said.

"I know I would be miserable if I didn't do something in the line of working with children," Felder said. "You might as well do your heart's desire."

"I've seen the difference that can be made, even in just one child's life," Smailes said. "I'm still a firm believer in making a difference."

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