Teachers busy prepping leading up to first day

Photos by Traci Westcott/The Herald
Ireland Elementary second-grade teacher Debbie Weidenbenner hangs signs Wednesday to prepare her classroom for the new school year.


While their students soak up the last few rays of summer sun before school starts Wednesday, teachers across the county are already back in their classrooms.

In the week or so leading up to the first day of school, teachers wind down their summer professional development programs and trickle back into their classrooms to prepare for the coming year. It’s a lot of planning, scheduling and furniture arranging to get their classrooms and procedures in tip-top condition for their students’ first day back.

“It makes the beginning of the year go so much more smoothly,” said Debbie Weidenbenner, a second-grade teacher at Ireland Elementary.

Weidenbenner is going into her 36th year teaching, and while those years have given her a solid framework for classroom procedures and lesson plans, she still has plenty to do to get her classroom up and going.

She’s spent the last three weeks in her classroom taping students’ names and ABC strips to their desks, making a birthday calendar, decorating her three bulletin boards, creating charts and separating school supplies for each student and putting names on the items.

At Ireland Elementary — and a few other county schools — the Parent Teacher Organization purchases school supplies for the students. The school also adopted new reading textbooks for this school year, so Weidenbenner dedicated a lot of her summer to writing lesson plans for that, too.

Ireland Elementary second-grade teacher Debbie Weidenbenner creates spelling flashcards at her desk Wednesday to prepare for the new school year.

She taught at Jasper Middle School before moving to Ireland Elementary. As a middle school teacher, she still found herself working over the summer to prepare for the school year, but there wasn’t as much preparation work to be done.

“At the elementary level, you have a lot more going on,” Weidenbenner said. “It takes days to get an elementary classroom ready.”

At Dubois Elementary, the last few weeks have seen a flurry of activity as teachers get ready for the school year. Katie Gogel teaches third grade at Dubois, and she’s been in and out of her classroom all summer to prepare while her own kids go to sports practices.

Over the summer, she worked on lesson plans and data collection methods, figuring out what worked well last year and what she should change this year. In the last few weeks, she’s shifted gears to decorating and organizing supplies for her students.

Just like at Ireland Elementary, Dubois Elementary’s PTO purchases school supplies for the students, so Gogel and her coworkers have been organizing those to make sure each student has what they need on the first day.

They’ve also gotten into the more creative side of classroom preparation: bulletin boards and classroom decorations. A lot of thought and Pinterest time goes into Gogel’s classroom decorations.

“What’s going to grab [the students’] attention?” Gogel said. “What words are going to be easy for them to understand?”

Like Gogel, Dubois Elemantary fourth-grade teacher Angela Barker has been in her classroom all summer, too. She’s in a unique situation, as she just had a baby Saturday and will start her year with a maternity leave. Because of that, she had to spend the summer preparing both for the first couple weeks of school and for the six weeks that will follow. All the planning reminded her how different the first couple weeks of school are from the rest of the year.

A bulletin board hangs in the hallway at Ireland Elementary on Wednesday.

“In that first week, you’re getting your procedures set in place and teaching the students what you expect,” Barker said. “You want to do that because otherwise you’re going to be correcting it all year.”

Elementary-level teachers aren’t the only ones in the schools through the summer.

Northeast Dubois Speech Pathologist Libby Richardson spends her summers scheduling the coming year and planning the activities she’ll do with the students she serves. One of her challenges is finding activities for all grade levels, as she works with preschool through high school students.

She also has to coordinate with other therapists that serve the students and their core teachers. She also meets with the teams that serve her students — teams of school personnel, parents and other therapists — throughout the summer to make sure the students are getting the support they need over the summer, too.

“Not only do we do school; we try to help all our parents, families and students get the help they need outside [of school],” Richardson said.

It’s a team effort, she said, and she couldn’t do it without the help of her colleagues.

At Jasper High School, English and film studies teacher Amy Bastien is also in her classroom. She’s going into her second year of teaching dual credit English, film studies and American literature, so her summer has been filled with tweaking her lesson plans and syllabi. She’s also been reading the books her students will read this coming year and watching lots of movies to figure out what she wants her film students to study.

“It is a lot of looking at what worked last year and what didn’t,” she said.

As the first day of school approaches, she’s working out seating arrangements and rearranging her classroom.

When asked if she feels ready for the first day, she laughed and said, “No.” But she’s certain that feeling is shared by many of her fellow teachers.

“I don’t think you ever really feel ready,” she said. “Even the day before [school starts] you’re thinking, ‘Oh, I could do this.’ You just have to decide you’ve done enough.”

The main goal of all the teachers, regardless of grade level and subject area, is that their students all feel welcome when they enter the classroom on the first day.

“That’s the main thing you want,” Barker said. “When the kids come, their stuff is ready and they feel welcome.”

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