Last week at York Road Elementary School, teacher Elizabeth Harper worked to put the finishing touches on her second-grade classroom.
The Rock Hill instructor decorated it in a jungle theme, with animal print patterns, cutouts of animals and a grass umbrella in the back corner.
A few miles away, at Sunset Park Center for Accelerated Studies, the reading recovery instructor, Sally Hartgrove, organizes her classroom, which is decorated with black and lots of pink.
These two are doing what nearly every teacher does before the first day of school.
The only difference between the two is that Hartgrove has been a teacher for 34 years and this will be Harpers very first school year.
I felt like I was making a difference, Hartgrove said of why she started teaching and why she has stayed with teaching all these years.
This will be Hartgroves sixth year in the Rock Hill school district.
For Harper, the Rock Hill school system is the only one shes ever known. Not only did she attend Rock Hill schools, then complete her student teaching at Ebinport Elementary, but shes also a third-generation Rock Hill teacher. Her grandmother is retired, but her mother still teaches.
Seeing my grandmother and my mom teach, they inspired me, she said.
Harper has spent many hours getting her classroom ready to go.
She described herself as very organized and scheduled, but recognized that as a teacher, shell have to be flexible.
Youre going to get some days where its not going your way, Harper said.
And while standards and grades are important, Harper said, her main goal is to love and support her students.
No one is allowed to leave my room without one of the three Hs: a handshake, a high-five or a hug, she said. I want them to know that someone believes in them and someone cared. And that doesnt end when they leave my room.
Hartgrove said her education philosophy hasnt changed all that much, even as technology has altered the landscape of schools over the past 30-plus years.
When Hartgrove first started teaching, and even as recently as 10 years ago, there werent computers in the classrooms, let alone touch-screen boards and iPads.
Who would have ever thought we would have been teaching keyboarding to kindergartners? she said.
Students have to have a broad spectrum of knowledge now, she said, because people make so many career changes throughout their lives. This means schools and teachers have to be flexible.
There are still going to be jobs, she said. We just dont know what theyre going to look like.
But while technology is important, Harper said, its still just one piece of the puzzle and doesnt replace anything that teachers can offer.
Hartgrove said its important for experienced teachers such as her to mentor new teachers like Harper, because they have so much to teach one another.
Ive learned as much from the students that Ive taught and the people Ive worked with as I did in college, Hartgrove said.
If you include all of elementary school, secondary school and college, this will be Harpers 18th first day of school, but she said it never gets easier to sleep on the night before. Now, as a teacher, shes experiencing something new.
You never want to let a student down, she said. The fear is, Whats going to be the first bump in the road?
But when asked what advice shed give a new teacher on the eve of her first day of school, Hartgrove said, Get a good nights sleep. Let it be. Youre done. Youre ready.
Rachel Southmayd • 803-329-4072