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Teachers feel the first-day jitters, too

LARGO — When kindergarten students walk into Bonnie Fulle's class Tuesday morning, the first thing they'll see is a sign saying, "Welcome to the Frog Pond."

Then they'll probably notice dozens of stuffed frogs perched throughout the classroom.

From that point on, those 20 or so 5-year-olds will be known as "Fulle's Fantastic Frogs."

Dorothea Harokopos, a third-grade teacher at Frontier Elementary for 10 years, uses bright colors to make her room feel "happy." She says she wants to "give them a learning environment that is fun and like a second home."

Both teachers think it's important to help their students feel comfortable as they start a new school year Tuesday.

That's easier said than done when a child is anxious about the first day with new classmates in a new environment.

It's not such a snap for teachers, either.

Although Fulle has taught at Southern Oak Elementary on Walsingham Road for many years, she still gets first-day jitters. She said she always tells her students, "Teachers are just as nervous as you are."

Leigh Owens, assistant principal at Southern Oak, said she can sympathize.

"I'm already not sleeping … thinking of all the little things," she said.

Harokopos said she copes with the stress by remembering to relax. "For me, it's taking it day by day," she said. "The kids are the ones that make your day a better day in the end."

Despite all the nerves, teachers and administrators say they're looking forward to seeing students come through the doors. Some have been preparing for weeks, even months.

Fulle said she comes back to school weeks ahead of time to get set up.

"Then I can spend this (final) week on the little things like name tags," she said.

Monique Desir, entering her sixth year of teaching second grade at Frontier Elementary, is eager to return to work.

"I come in over the summer," she said. "I can't stay away. I shop the sales at Staples and Office Depot from my own pocket."

Desir acknowledges some anxiety about the new school year sometimes sneaks into her thoughts, even while she's asleep. She said she recently had a dream about the first day.

She dreamed her students "brought bizarre things to school like Zhu Zhu pets and Silly Bandz. Last year, I had to ban (Silly Bandz)."

Some teachers and administrators are facing new challenges.

"I'm a brand new principal," said Alisa Gatlin of Largo Middle. "My approach? Support each other. Teamwork. Everyone's pitching in."

Southern Oak is instituting a schoolwide "positive behavior plan," which means each teacher will take the same action if a student misbehaves, Owens said.

One thing hasn't changed from years past. Teachers still want parents to do their part.

"Support the kids. Ask them about school so they know you care," Gatlin said.

Frontier Elementary principal Wendy Bryan wants parents' support as well.

"Work with your kids at home," she said. "Communicate with the teacher. Come and see what we're doing. This is your home, too."

Teachers feel the first-day jitters, too 08/21/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 21, 2010 4:33am]
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