Marelis “Lisi” Miller has gone through many first days of school. But this will be the first time she does it at the front of the classroom instead of in a student’s desk.
“I think I’m more excited than anything,” she said at the end of a recent teacher meet-and-greet event at Summit Elementary. Miller had spent about an hour meeting her new students and their families — something she has been looking forward to all summer.
Miller is the Spanish teacher in Summit’s new dual-language immersion program, teaching kindergartners and first-graders in Spanish for half of their school day. She graduated from the University of Evansville in May, and is one of 20 teachers starting their education careers with the Monroe County Community School Corp. this year.
For a brand-new teacher, the first day of class is just about as exciting and nerve-wracking as it was when they were kindergartners. Paul Farmer, president of the Monroe County Education Association teachers union, said those nerves never quite go away, no matter how many years you put into the profession. After 29 years in the classroom, the Bloomington High School North science teacher said he still gets nervous on the first day of school. He thinks it’s a good thing.
“That nervousness shows your enthusiasm,” Farmer said. “It shows your desire to do well for the kids that walk into the room.”
Those “butterflies,” as he calls them, are indicative of a passion and concern for the children in a teacher’s care. “The day you don’t have that will be the day you maybe don’t care as much as you did in the past.”
New teachers have a few different sources for their nerves. For Miller, they run from whether her students will like the decorations in her room to how they’ll adjust to a new class format. Most importantly — and like most new teachers — she asks herself how she can help her students understand what they need to learn.
Farmer remembers having similar worries when he first stepped into the classroom. He has a few pieces of advice for new teachers. At the top: Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“They don’t have to do it by themselves,” he said. Teaching can be a stressful, busy profession for even the most experienced teachers. It’s important to rely on each other’s expertise. “All of us started at some point in time, and being able to say, ‘Can you help me with —?’ is a big relief for any teacher, and definitely for those beginning teachers.”
Miller is already putting that one into practice. She attended a dual-language school when she was in elementary school, and she has been emailing her former kindergarten teacher for advice. That, and being able to talk to her fellow Summit teachers and school administrators, has helped her feel at home and ready for the coming year.
“It’s all these question marks,” she said, but it’s good to know she has a support network to turn to when she needs help finding the answers.
Ultimately, the thing that most helps a teacher in the classroom is just continuing to teach, Farmer said.
“The number one thing that really helps you as an educator is your years of experience that you have in the classroom,” he said.
That expertise and experience can only come with time. For now, the advice that has resonated most with Miller so far is simple: It’s going to be OK. Between that assurance, her supportive new colleagues and the opportunity to help build a dual-language program from its inception, Miller said jokingly that she’s been too excited — and ecstatic — to sleep much lately. She’s looking forward most to having kids in the classroom, and getting the ball rolling.
Which means she’s already got Farmer’s last piece of advice down pat.
“At the end of the day, at the end of the year, you have to love and enjoy the teaching and the kids,” Farmer said. “That’s what it’s about.”