Editor's Note: In August, Herald reporter Jessica Schonberg brought you the story of two first-time teachers in the Rock Hill school district preparing to start their careers. Schonberg talked with one of those teachers recently to see how things are going and what surprises she's encountered. Mabra Herlong, a 2007 Winthrop University graduate, teaches fifth grade at Northside Elementary School of the Arts. Here's what she had to say. Answers have been edited for length.
Q: What are some of the surprises you've encountered in your first four months?
A: "I would say the personality differences. With 18 different students, there are 18 completely different personalities in the classroom. One of my big things is trying to build a classroom community, and with 18 different personalities that can be a challenge."
Q: What has it been like getting to know all of your students?
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A: "It takes a lot of time. I know that there are some students that need to take five minutes in the back of the room and cool down and come back. I know that there are some students that need more one-on-one time with me than others. I know that there are some students that may need just a key word to get them to keep going. And it's just taken a lot of time to learn those tricks with all 18 students because everybody has something different."
Q: When you do come up against adversity in the classroom, how do you go about overcoming that?
A: "Usually, it comes about through conversation with the student. (A conversation such as) 'OK, what is our problem, how can we work together to solve this problem? Because in the end, I need you to do your work, and I want to help you learn. So what do you think we can do together to make that happen?'
"And as long as a student is open to communication, we usually can come up with a good solution that works well for both of us to make sure that learning still takes place."
Q: What are some things that you've learned from your students?
A: "I will definitely not be a teacher that says I know everything. With fifth grade, there is a lot of content that you have to learn. My students, a lot of times, they may ask a question that I don't know the answer to, and I challenge them to go home and do the research and find the answer and bring it back to our class.
"That would be an example of me learning from them, because, obviously, I didn't know the answer from the beginning. It's kind of hard to be expected to know everything from before World War I all the way up to present day."
Q: One of the things we talked about at the beginning of the year was that when you were doing your student teaching ... you always had a teacher to kind of fall back on. What has it been like not having that safety net anymore?
A: "I would say it really hasn't been that much different because the team that I work with is amazing. We plan together. Every lesson that we teach, we all are doing pretty much the same thing because we all meet together and plan together.
"So I still have that support of people not only in my grade, but my school in general. They're a wonderful support system. Any time that I have any problems with a skill or a question about something, I have so many people that are still there to help me, just like when my mentor teacher was there."
Q: You're out of school and you're teaching, but do you still have homework when you go home?
A: "Oh my gosh, yes! Every night I am reading in my science book or in my social studies book, making lesson plans, grading papers -- it never stops. I'm usually at work at 6:30 in the morning, and I usually don't leave before 6 o'clock in the afternoon."
Q: Is that normal for here?
A: "I think it has a lot to do with my first-year teaching and the fact that I'm having to learn all this content also so that I can be prepared to teach my students. And that takes a lot of time.
"A lot of it, too, is just trying to stay organized. I am very big on being organized and trying to get everything organized so that it can run smoothly when my kids are in the classroom.
"It just takes a lot of time. A lot more time than I knew people really put into it. My mom has taught for 27 years, so I've always seen education. But I never knew that it took almost a 12-hour day."
Q: So do you feel adjusted yet?
A: "I really do. I'm on a schedule. I get up at the same time every morning. I go through the same routine every day. It's all about keeping that schedule and sticking to it."