Seymour Community School Corp. teachers prepare for first day of school

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When Lizz Patterson opened the door of her new classroom at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School this summer, she looked around and knew she had a lot of work to do.

Stacked on the floor were 95 boxes filled with all of her teaching supplies, classroom decorations and stuff she had accumulated over the past seven years as a teacher at Seymour-Jackson Elementary School.

Thankfully, she didn’t have to tackle the job alone. It has been all hands on deck as her family, including her grandparents, have chipped in to help her get ready for the first day of school.

“I’m the only teacher in my family, so before I became a teacher, I didn’t know what teachers did,” she said. “I had no idea.”

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Getting her classroom set up has been the biggest challenge this year, she said.

It’s the little things you don’t think about, like hanging things from the ceiling or putting up paper to cover up bulletin boards, she said.

But getting ready for the first day of school is something she loves to do.

“I wouldn’t stop doing it, but it takes a lot of work,” she said. “It takes a village.”

Toward the end of the 2018-19 school year, Patterson, who teaches second grade, decided she needed a change, something new to reinvigorate her love of teaching, so she requested a transfer.

She has been in her new classroom since the beginning of June but just recently started putting everything together. Teaching summer school at Brown this year helped in the transition along with getting to know the school custodial staff, she said.

“I made sure that all of my boxes were in my classroom, and I would slowly but surely open boxes and just make stacks,” she said.

Now, she’s excited and looking forward to meeting her students and getting the school year started off right.

“I’m very happy to be here,” she said. “I got welcomed with open arms.”

Seymour Community Schools teachers’ first official day back was Tuesday, while students arrived today.

In her third year teaching fourth grade at Seymour-Redding Elementary School, Rhiannon Castetter said her favorite part of going back to school is “the buzz” of everything going on.

Although she will spend the next 180 days with them, it’s the first day that makes the biggest impression.

“You get to see where they come in at the beginning and then all that growth throughout the year,” she said.

She started her back-to-school preparations in mid-July by thinking about what to do in the first few days and weeks of school.

“I love that we start on Thursday because it gives us a way to ease back into the routine, then recuperate over the weekend and then hit it hard come Monday,” she said.

Castetter goes over her plans from last year to see if she needs to make changes and prepares herself mentally to start over.

She redoes her classroom to make it fresh and new, not only for her students but for herself, too.

“At the end of every year, I always say, ‘No, I’m just going to keep everything the way it is. It will be fine,'” she said. “And then I go into the teacher store, and it’s all over.”

Her decorations have a farmhouse theme, making it homey and inviting. Instead of traditional desks and chairs, she has tables she has covered with chalkboard paint so kids can write on them and erase it.

One of the tables is the same one that was in her grandmother’s house.

“I was nervous coming in,” she said of the switch to flexible seating last year. “Is discipline going to be an issue? Are boundaries going to be an issue? It takes a little while, but they do really well with it.”

It also makes it more comfortable for her since she’s in the classroom more than she is at her own home, she said.

Getting organized is the most difficult part of going back to school, she said.

“I really have to crack down on myself and make myself sit down and write out a plan,” she said.

It’s also a challenge to be aware of and sensitive to all students’ situations to gain their trust, Castetter said.

She expects to have between 25 and 30 students in her class this year.

“It doesn’t matter how many you have,” she said. “You still have to make each student feel that they’re important, that they have a role in your classroom.”

At Jackson Elementary, Stacey McCartney has been preparing to welcome all her new “kinderdarlings” to her classroom. It’s the most exciting time of the year, she said.

“I started coming in about two weeks ago just to get my room set up,” she said.

This summer, McCartney taught pre-k/kindergarten academics for five weeks in Columbus for the migrant educational program.

“I took a ton of my stuff with me, so as it was coming to a close, I was slowly bringing stuff back and starting in my classroom in the afternoons and rearranging,” she said.

She has been a teacher for the past 13 years and has taught in Michigan, New Hampshire and Arizona. The past five years, she has been at Jackson.

“I taught first grade my first year here,” she said. “This will be my fourth year teaching kindergarten.”

Kindergarten is special, she said, because everything is so new and it’s the beginning of what’s to come.

“They come in knowing so little, and they leave knowing so much,” she said. “It’s amazing what they learn in a year.”

It’s during kindergarten children develop the skills and habits they need to be successful throughout their school years.

“We lay a foundation for everything,” she said.

McCartney doesn’t like to make a lot of changes to her classroom from year to year because when it works, she doesn’t see a reason to try something new.

She forgoes the use of standard desks and uses flexible seating, allowing students to sit on stools, bouncy seats and the floor. It’s a practice many teachers in the district have implemented.

“My classroom setup is very easy because of the flexible seating,” she said. “I don’t have to make room arrangements with tables and chairs.”

She credits the school’s custodial staff for doing most of the work.

The biggest challenge of back to school for a teacher is all of the paperwork, making up folders for each student, getting name tags ready and making sure everything is in order.

“You know your class size is going to change because we have people coming in every day and enrolling, which means you have to tweak everything,” she said.

Her class size was at 26, but she expects to have as many as 30 students.

It also can be difficult not knowing a child’s background and what their life is like at home.

“Being a teacher, the No. 1 thing is being flexible and being able to adapt,” she said.

Besides getting their classrooms ready, teachers also spend time in professional development and training.

“I spent seven days in professional training this summer,” McCartney said.

What gets her most excited, though, is kindergarten orientation, which was July 30. That’s the first time she gets to meet her new students.

“It’s fun to come in and see how excited they are,” she said. “They get to go to the cafeteria and go through the line, and they get to see a bus. It’s all new to them. We’re teaching them how to sit down, how to line up, how to take turns and how to use our restrooms.”

Those procedures and routines make up the bulk of what kindergartners learn in the first two weeks, along with fine motor skills, she said.

A teacher’s job may be instruction, but their purpose is to love, McCartney said.

“They’re all important. They’re all smart,” she said of her students.

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