First class days

It's back-to-school time: fresh starts, excitement, and for some, a few jitters.

Leslie Yee

Newton, Mass.

The hallways were quiet and empty at Memorial Spaulding Elementary last week before school started. But in Room 246, Leslie Yee was already hard at work organizing bookshelves and covering up the bare walls.

The second-grade teacher is one of four newly graduated teachers leaping into their first year at Memorial Spaulding. To help prepare, Ms. Yee shopped at a school-supply store with her mom, a second-grade teacher of 30 years.

Using her new supplies, she tacked up a welcoming sign and wrote each of her students' names on red and green apples, and hung a dozen paper cupcakes, containing the date of each of her 21 students' birthdays.

"I need more color in my classroom and I'm trying to figure out how to do that," she says. "I will be taking pictures of them when they come in, so I'll have a bulletin board of that."

She also bought a bagful of phonics games and guided-reading beach balls which ask questions like "What was your favorite part of the story?" and "What was the setting?"

As a new teacher, Yee receives $100 more than others to spend on supplies. But she expects to spend some of her own money throughout the year. "I know I'll find things that I want to make the classroom look nice and homey, but I don't want to go nuts and not have money for my rent."

"It's hard being a first-year teacher because I don't know what I need yet."

Yee is eager to eventually draw upon her mother's experience, but just now she finds her ideas too much to process. "She throws ideas at me left and right. It's overwhelming."

- Lisa Leigh Connors

Mac and Holly MacVaugh

Pasadena, Calif.

Six-year-old twins Mac and Holly MacVaugh are looking forward to first grade. Kindergarten was fun, they say, but this will be better.

"It's gonna be fun," says Holly. "We're going to have more math homework and math tests. You know, I already know math." Mac is a little less confident. "I don't know that much math," he admits. "When I don't know something, I get excited and scared."

The brother and sister are beginning their second year at Mayfield Junior School in Pasadena, Calif. They will be walking to class - as they were most days last year - under the watchful eye of their older sister, 10-year-old Madzie.

Their mother, Cathy, says that although the twins had a positive kindergarten experience, they're still a bit nervous about this year.

"By now, they've figured out that school is work," says Cathy. "And they know there will be more expected of them in first grade, like those weekly spelling tests."

Holly and Mac will not be in the same classroom. Their mother prefers it this way. "It's been better that they make their own friends," she says.

With mom's help, the twins have already staked out their individual spaces for studying and doing homework. "We've actually set up a place here in the kitchen so I can help them as I'm getting dinner ready."

But homework is not a priority for Mac just yet. He enumerates the things he's most looking forward to on his first day of first grade: seeing his friends, painting in the art room, and playing at recess.

"Recess, recess, recess! That's the best part of the day," he screams.

- Susan Gregg Gilmore

Annie Long and Meg Hardick

Austin, Texas

Annie Long and Meg Hardick met in preschool and have been friends and classmates ever since. Last year, in fifth grade, they had a choice. They could stay in their elementary school for sixth grade or move on to a brand-new sixth-grade program at Kealing, their local junior high.

The girls, both 11, have opted to move. They've heard rumors that Kealing is a "tough" school with the potential for bullying, but the experience of Annie's brother reassures them. "He hasn't gotten beat up or anything," says Annie. "He was in band last year and he had a lot of fun. He was also in the musical. I'm going to try out for that."

Unlike their elementary school, Kealing doesn't give students a detailed list of supplies they'll need. "You're supposed to show up with a binder and pencil and papers," says Meg.

Though both girls are outgoing and have excellent academic records, they're still nervous. "I'm worried about not being able to find anything - like classrooms - and they talk about how you'll get in trouble if you're late," says Annie.

"We have eight different teachers," chimes in Meg.

Annie finishes her thought, "We've looked at a list of classes and we can't figure out how we can have that many classes in a day." But she's optimistic, she insists. "It's going to be OK."

- Spike Gillespie

Scott Anderson

West Barnstable, Mass.

Longtime potter and art teacher Scott Anderson feels right at home on Cape Cod. He's just a short drive from the thriving arts community of Provincetown and pottery studios that dot scenic route 6A. And no matter where he is on the arm-shaped peninsula, the shore is never far.

When he was offered a teaching job at Cape Cod Community College in May, it was perfect timing. He'd been teaching at Portland Community College in Oregon but always longed to be closer to his native Scotland. Also his wife had been accepted to a Massachusetts law school.

So they packed their belongings, including his pottery wheel and kiln, and headed east.

Mr. Anderson is one of 13 new teachers beginning at Cape Cod Community College this fall. He will instruct classes in drawing, graphic design, and Quark Express."

He says he enjoys teaching entry-level classes because that's where he can make the most impact. "I'm very interested in capturing people at the fundamental level," he says.

He hopes to impart practical ideas to his students. "I want them to walk away with a framework they can apply to decorating their house, landscaping their garden, or taking photographs."

Although he left an urban setting for a more bucolic one, he still expects a diverse group of students.

"I enjoy teaching at the community college level because you get people with absolutely no interest in art, people with some interest, and some who want to make art their career," says Anderson. "Your classroom is filled with all kinds of age groups, abilities, all kinds of racial and ethnic backgrounds. You get this amazing mix."

- Lisa Leigh Connors

Tim Miller

Mickelton, N.J.

Tim Miller is 14 years old. Although he lives in Mickelton, N.J. , he started ninth grade on Sept. 2 at Salesianum, a private, Catholic prep school in Wilmington, Del. The school is close enough for him to commute by bus daily, an hour each way.

Tim says he's switching to a private school in part because, "My parents are making me." But he confesses, "I don't mind."

In the public school he was attending, Tim says, "It was horrible. We had three bomb scares last year, we had drug busts on a regular basis." Though his class sizes will remain about the same, his new school is a three-story building situated on 22 acres, which impresses Tim.

"I'm not nervous," Tim says, "because everyone in my class - it's their first year, too."

Tim attended orientation - and was immediately assigned homework. "I can tell this school is going to be a lot harder," he says. "But I'm ready for the challenge."

Another change: dress code. "At all times we have to wear a dress shirt, tie, khakis or dress pants, and polishable shoes that are polished."

Tim's not worried about the lack of girls. "There are two sister schools nearby. The first week of school we have a dance and a homecoming." Plus, the two-hour daily drive time is coed, giving everyone plenty of time to socialize.

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