First-time jitters for first-time teachers

First-year teacher Mabra Herlong decorates her fifth-grade classroom at Northside Elementary School in Rock Hill earlier this month.
First-year teacher Mabra Herlong decorates her fifth-grade classroom at Northside Elementary School in Rock Hill earlier this month.

When Mabra Herlong was a child, she would sit in the den of her house and grade imaginary papers on the floor while her mother, a teacher, graded real work from her classes.

This week, Herlong, 22, will meet her first class of fifth-graders at Northside Elementary School. She's nervous but ready for the challenge.

"If you would have asked me this right out of high school, I would have told you I was 100 percent ready for that classroom," Herlong said. "But I feel like the more I have learned, the more I realize there is so much more to teaching than just standing in front of the classroom."

Every year, the Rock Hill school district welcomes about 60 teachers to their first classrooms, said Beckye Partlow, director of personnel.

This year, there will be 52 first-time teachers.

Being a first-timer is a unique experience.

For new teachers like 24-year-old Tim Sawyer, starting the year is as much about learning to be an independent adult as it is about learning to be responsible for a classroom full of students.

Sawyer joked about getting familiar with the dollar menu while he learns money management and becoming best friends with "SportsCenter" as he meets people in the area.

"Now that I'm making my own money and I see how much I have, I don't want to spend any of it," Sawyer said.

Sawyer has been teaching summer school at Northwestern High School while he prepares for a year of math classes there.

Though the new teachers are well-trained for their jobs, the district does not throw them into the year without any guidance.

Every teacher who is new to the district goes through a two-day training before school starts, and first-time teachers do an additional orientation session, said Sylvia M. Berry, director of teacher recruitment and evaluation for Rock Hill schools.

"They come to us with a lot of content knowledge, and they're really ready; it's just getting everything to fall into place," she said.

First-time teachers are assigned mentors who work with them throughout the year and help them through any problems they might encounter.

New teachers also are required to attend at least one monthly session where they can meet their peers and veteran teachers and learn about topics pertinent to teaching, Berry said.

Although they are the new kids on the block, new teachers sometimes see their age as an advantage.

Herlong said she feels more comfortable with new technology than older teachers who did not grow up with it might.

Sawyer said he's still young enough to understand what's in and what's not, allowing him to connect with students better.

For both Herlong and Sawyer, getting the keys to their rooms, or in Sawyer's case, the gym, was one of the biggest eye-openers yet.

"As a kid, I can remember teachers being like, 'Here's my keys, go do this for me,' and I thought it was so cool," Sawyer said.

"I have gym keys right now. I remember getting those keys, I was like, 'All right, I'm a grownup now.'"