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Teachers getting a head start

August 20, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Second-grade teacher Debra McPherson does not expect to get much sleep on Aug. 24, the night before classes resume in the Washington County Public Schools system.

McPherson, 51, one of about 1,500 teachers in the school system who returned to work Thursday, said she uses her nervousness to build a rapport with her students at the start of each school year.

"I am a seasoned educator but every year I get butterflies in my stomach," said McPherson, who teaches at Pangborn Elementary School. "I can't sleep."

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On the first day of school, she asks students if they had trouble sleeping or if they worried about starting school, she said. Then she tells them that she also gets nervous and had trouble sleeping.

She said the students look shocked and ask, "You get nervous?"

The exchange helps the students and teacher bond as they prepare for a year together, she said.

McPherson and other teachers and administrators at Pangborn interviewed Thursday were preparing the school and classrooms for the start of the school year.

Despite making preparations, some get nervous.

"I am excited and scared and anxious, just like the kids," said Dorothy Gonder, 49, who teaches first grade.

On Thursday she was wearing a yellow T-shirt that proclaimed, "I'm still in first grade and I love it."

Principal Kara Reed said she tends to have trouble sleeping on the night before teachers return to school.

She said she was not worried about whether the teachers are ready, because she knows they are, but rather, "are the teachers going to have everything they need?"

As teachers walked into the school Thursday morning, they were greeted by signs that said, "Welcome back staff! We are glad you are here!"

The teachers gathered in the cafeteria at about 8 a.m. for the first staff meeting of the year. Some hugged friends and colleagues and others met new employees.

A few minutes later, Reed and Assistant Principal Steve Wernick entered the room dressed as construction workers, in keeping with this year's school theme: Building a learning community with Panther pride.

Reed brought along a tool kit that contained a hammer, drill and other tools. She challenged teachers at each table to think of ways they could use tools as metaphors for learning.

One teacher suggested instructors wear ear protectors so they won't hear preconceived notions about their students

The theme, part of the school's attempt to get more community and parental involvement this year, will be reinforced throughout the school year, Reed said.

Reed, armed with a bullhorn, led the teachers on a tour of the school.

Of the 27 teachers in the school, only five were not moved from the classrooms they had been in last year, she said. Some were moved elsewhere in the building and seven were moved into portables, she said.

The changes were the result of several factors, including a projected enrollment increase and the school's change from half-day to full-day kindergarten, she said.

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