McCORDSVILLE — Along with the thousands of local children who will feel first-day jitters as they head back to school this week and next, there are plenty of new teachers feeling the same emotions as their students.
In Lauren Hedrick’s first-grade classroom during the first day at McCordsville Elementary School on Thursday, the new teacher led her class through a series of songs, stories and exercises to get them through the butterflies.
About 3,600 students returned to Mt. Vernon schools Thursday. Greenfield-Central and Southern Hancock school corporations start Monday, and Eastern Hancock students return Wednesday.
For Hedrick, the trick to making the first day run smoothly for first-timers — teachers and students alike — is to make students feel comfortable, even if that means letting her own inhibitions go.
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“I try to be as theatrical as possible,” she said. “If they see me being silly, they realize they can be silly. When they sang the song this morning, they really hammed it up, and that helped get everyone loosened up. I’m new, too, so it’s good we get to do all this together.”
Hedrick is leading her own class for the first time, having just graduated with an elementary education degree from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Though Hedrick has experience as a student teacher, being at the front of the classroom is a new challenge, one she was excited to share with her students.
“We all feel different ways about the start of school, and that’s OK,” Hedrick told the 18 first-graders as they sat in a circle, peering up at her.
Grant Allen, one Hedrick’s students, said he was looking forward to the first day of school, but he’s not ready for homework.
Evan Morris, another student in Hedrick’s class, admitted he was nervous about his first day but said he’s looking forward to the new iPads the elementary students will soon get their hands on.
“They’re awesome,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of books, but I can’t wait to use (the iPads).”
Hedrick said she decided to let her students set the parameters for classroom behavior to establish some accountability.
“So if someone breaks a rule, I can say, ‘That’s funny, you made the rule that we always raise our hands before asking a question,’” she explained. “And they never say anything unreasonable. They hold themselves to a high standard.”
Hedrick said she’ll focus the first few days of instruction on team-building activities, so she can develop chemistry with the class.
“I’m teaching them what it takes to be a good student,” she said. “I want to maximize their potential, so I’m working on developing a solid foundation now. Once they have that in place, they can build upon it.”
Shane Robbins, Mt. Vernon superintendent, stopped by all of the district’s schools Thursday.
He agreed with Hedrick, saying he sees the first day of school as a time for everyone to get situated.
A recently adopted balanced calendar, which provides for longer breaks throughout the school year, also sends students back to school earlier after summer break.
“We know it’s a short summer,” he said. “(Students) are coming out of different sleep patterns and day camps, so we’re easing them back into this more structured environment. We want to lay the foundation for their hopes and aspirations, and once they’re comfortable is when they can start setting goals.”
The district’s new technology initiative, which will put a computer in each student’s hands, is well underway. While students don’t yet have the devices, they’re all receiving training on how to take care of them.
Students at Mt. Vernon elementary schools will receive iPads, with middle and high school students using Chromebook laptops.
Hedrick, who was hired just weeks ago, wasn’t part of the trainings that the district conducted to prepare teachers to incorporate technology into their lessons. Still, she’s confident she’ll catch up.
She was a student teacher last year in Lawrence Township, which implemented a similar technology initiative.
Though the walls in Hedrick’s classroom aren’t blanketed in decorations like those of teachers who have spent years in education, she’s confident they’ll fill up soon enough.
“There’s a lot of work to do,” she said, “but it won’t take much time.”
Greenfield-Central and Eastern Hancock schools begin classes Monday.
Southern Hancock schools begin classes Wednesday.