WESLEY CHAPEL — Paul Vassak spent a week of his summer break grading advanced placement exams in Nebraska.
He got insights for his students about how their AP essays get evaluated, and he met teachers from around the country who shared ideas on how to better present materials.
After revamping his curriculum and finding new class resources, Vassak looked forward to Monday's first day of work for Pasco teachers.
"It's nice to get back in the swing of things," the Wiregrass Ranch High School social studies teacher said. "I have 100 things in mind … I want to do different. I have another shot at it."
Many of the district's 4,862 teachers shared the sentiment.
After a summer spent relaxing and preparing for the new academic year, they said they were ready to return to their jobs.
"I'm excited to be back," said Kristie Freeze, a sixth-grade math teacher at John Long Middle School who spent several summer days in training. "I'm anxious to try some of the new things we learned, and I'm looking forward to meeting my new students."
An early start
The teachers get a week in their classrooms before the kids arrive. They planned to use the time to decorate, confer with their teams of teachers about each student and review the latest set of rules, policies and laws that govern their business.
"This is an opportunity to get ready, so that you feel when they walk in on that first day, 'I'm ready to go,' " said Gail Ruddy, a fourth-grade teacher at Sand Pine Elementary. "If they (students) were here, you couldn't do that."
Ruddy spent Monday morning organizing desks, building storage cases and moving supplies and materials. Her room was spotless, but she considered it a disaster.
"It's not organized," Ruddy said, explaining that things were on the shelves but not in the right places.
Across the hall, fourth-grade teacher Melody Welt trimmed laminate from her new classroom posters before hanging them. She had come to school the previous week to set up, in part because she switched rooms from a year ago. The fact that families were coming for meet-the-teacher day on Wednesday only strengthened her desire to have the room ready quickly.
"Every time you come back, you try to do it better and smarter," said Welt, who focused much of her effort on the reading corner, which was complete with a library of Sunshine State books and comfortable chairs and cushions.
Lisa Sans, a science teacher at John Long Middle, said she spent much of her summer focused on curriculum. She's moving from teaching eighth grade to seventh grade and "needed to have a smooth transition."
She also decided to use more outside resources and not rely on the textbook as much. School was never far from her mind, even though she was off the clock. Still, the week back before students helps, Sans said.
"I need to get my mind refocused on the business," she explained.
And then there's just the sense of belonging.
"This is a wonderful place to work," said Wiregrass Ranch biology teacher Yvonne Costabile, who was thrilled to have her own classroom after a year spent wheeling a cart from place to place.
Added Ruddy: "I missed the kids. … I'm ready to be stimulated again and just to make a difference."
Classes resume on Monday. Meet the teacher days are today for secondary schools and Wednesday for elementary schools.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.