No matter the years of experience, first day of school in Rock Hill always brings jitters

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comAugust 21, 2013 

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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 Harper’s 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 Hartgrove’s sixth year in the Rock Hill school district.

For Harper, the Rock Hill school system is the only one she’s ever known. Not only did she attend Rock Hill schools, then complete her student teaching at Ebinport Elementary, but she’s 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, she’ll have to be flexible.

“You’re going to get some days where it’s 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 ‘H’s:’ 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 doesn’t end when they leave my room.”

Hartgrove said her education philosophy hasn’t 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 weren’t 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 don’t know what they’re going to look like.”

But while technology is important, Harper said, it’s still just one piece of the puzzle and doesn’t replace anything that teachers can offer.

Hartgrove said it’s important for experienced teachers such as her to mentor new teachers like Harper, because they have so much to teach one another.

“I’ve learned as much from the students that I’ve taught and the people I’ve worked with as I did in college,” Hartgrove said.

If you include all of elementary school, secondary school and college, this will be Harper’s 18th first day of school, but she said it never gets easier to sleep on the night before. Now, as a teacher, she’s experiencing something new.

“You never want to let a student down,” she said. “The fear is, ‘What’s going to be the first bump in the road?’ ”

But when asked what advice she’d give a new teacher on the eve of her first day of school, Hartgrove said, “Get a good night’s sleep. Let it be. You’re done. You’re ready.”

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Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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