Her first day of the job, first year teacher shows no fear
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Teaching was not Katlyn Williams' first passion. With three generations of educators before her, it was actually the very thing she said she wouldn't do.
"They work too hard," she remembered thinking of her mother, grandmother and great grandmother. Yet, the family tradition that runs strong eventually pulled Williams in, too.
So, there she was Tuesday (Aug. 6) morning in Room 11 at Brewbaker Primary School. She was officially "Mrs. Williams" to 18 first-graders as she kicked off her first year as a teacher. She is the only brand new teacher in the building, in a Montgomery Public Schools system pushing to recruit and keep teachers.
A year spent as a marketing coordinator eventually led her to a preschool classroom where she discovered what she now says is her purpose.
"It was something new every day. I never knew how hilarious kids could be. I didn't know you could feel that much love every day. It's so cool to see their mind work," Williams said.
Hired by MPS in June, following her graduation from AUM in May, Williams spent countless hours — and an amount of money she'd rather not disclose in case her husband is reading — preparing for the arrival of the students she hopes to form a classroom family with. She has focused on making sure Room 11 is as inviting and impactful as possible.
There are behavior charts defining 'Super Bulldog Behavior' (the school's mascot), birthday charts to be filled and inspirational quotes such as 'Believe in Yourself' scattered across the walls.
Crates outfitted with upholstered seat cushions serve as reading areas around the room. The center is marked by a rug — the home of the morning meeting — that matches the cushions. From the ceiling are dangling clips, to hang student artwork. Her favorite part of the room is the library, where she categorized the books by genre rather than by alphabetical order.
"We're going to be here for seven hours a day. This is our home and I think elementary school can scar children from a love of learning at an early age, so I want to make sure this is a happy place where you can take risks," Williams said.
After completing her room's preparation, she felt the need to call her former teachers and thank them for the work they did.
"I never realized it took this long to put up a bulletin board," she laughed.
Williams described this work moments before parents and her future students began filling the hallways of Brewbaker Primary Monday night for orientation, ready to get their classroom assignment, busing information and find their new teacher. She had prepared a scavenger hunt for parents to take their children on throughout the room. There was a bucket for parents to drop their wishes in, too. She'd made a PowerPoint to play during the open house, but that was before she realized her new smartboard would only play Google slides.
"I hope nobody throws up on the first day," she joked about her biggest fear for the following day.
On a more serious note, she said, "I'm scared. But I'm very excited and I feel prepared. There are a lot of unknowns in teaching, which is exciting, but sometimes you can't prepare for everything."
Once she went home at 6:30 p.m., she made name tags for each student's desk and another set to wear, attached to a lanyard.
She arrived for her first day hours before her students. After the first three came in and began their morning work — a coloring sheet welcoming them to the first grade — Williams marveled at how quietly and diligently the youngsters were working.
Her colleague told her within days, perhaps even tomorrow, things would be different.
The biggest task that lies ahead of Williams is teaching the 6- to 7-year-olds how to read. Some will come in knowing their alphabet, while some may not. But all will need to leave Williams with the ability to finish an entire book.
"First grade is a really tough year academically for children," she said. She trusts her own struggles with reading might help her students.
Diagnosed as dyslexic in fourth grade, Williams said she had a really hard time learning how to read.
"I remember not being able to decode text as easily as my peers ... I don't want other children to feel discouraged or less than because of that emerging reader stage."
That experience, she said, doesn't qualify her to diagnose children with learning disabilities, but it will allow her to share all of the different techniques she has had to employ to read.
"Because that is something I naturally do, I think it will help my students," she said.
"Chrysanthemum" would be their first book to read — about a mouse who people make fun of for her name. The theme, for Williams, is about celebrating being unique.
The first day was largely focused on going through their daily routines. After each student arrived and had enough time to finish their color sheet — several were hung on the clips above their seats — Williams called the class to the rug for their morning meeting. She had already set the tone: nurturing but no nonsense. Firm, but fun. It's a tone her own first-grade teacher set.
"She was tough in a way where you really wanted to please her but she was still loving and I feel like that's a really hard balance," Williams said.
The meeting involved each student being greeted by the class, with some taking the opportunity to show off their dance moves. One boy did the 'floss,' followed by another who did the 'shoot'. The last student makes everyone giggle with a less known dance move he might have made up himself. Williams high-fives each. She managed to slide in several compliments for her students throughout the morning.
The last task before the students practiced their lunchtime routine was to sing a song together. Several stirred with excitement as they recognized the familiar tune of "Boom Shocka Locka," but Williams threw in a twist, ordering the singing be done in "robot style."
While the first day of school was undoubtedly intimidating for some students walking into a new room, with a brand new face to greet them, Williams was able to keep their attention and keep the room lively. Despite any fears she may have had, her students did not notice.
Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com