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Teachers spend summers preparing for school year

MORRIS – As parents taxied their schoolchildren to get last minute haircuts, purchase school supplies, buy that perfect first day school attire and to register for the new school year, they might not have realized it’s not just the students who have been getting ready for the first day of school.

Teachers have been, too. Some of them for longer than one might think.

Cindy Belt has been getting her Immaculate Conception School classroom ready for her new students for the better part of the summer. Belt will teach fourth grade at ICS this year, along with sixth-grade language arts.

Grade school teachers typically spend a bit more time in their rooms during the summer, making sure lesson plans are ready, nametags are in place and colorful and enticing learning enhancements are in the room.

Belt also had the extra work this summer of organizing her new curriculum for fourth grade. For the past nine years, she has taught kindergarten and now must not only get her classroom ready for an older set of kids but also must get her lesson plans ready and books read.

“It will be a big step for me,” Belt said. “Except for vacation and times we’ve been gone, I have been at the school this summer probably every morning, Monday through Friday. I like to clean my room thoroughly and go through things I don’t need. I do what I call spring cleaning.”

She’s also been doing a lot of reading this summer, not only to find good literature for her fourth- and sixth-grade students but also to find more nonfiction literature – a requirement for the new statewide Common Core standards. She’s particularly excited about “Acorn People,” a nonfiction book by Ron Jones.

“I also attend workshops,” she said about her summer schedule, “and I spent a lot of time this summer moving my classroom upstairs.”

As a grade school teacher, Belt said she does searches online to find ideas for lessons and decorations. She found a great door display on Pinterest.

At the middle school level, Shabbona math teacher Jan Wendling said the time teachers spend getting their classrooms ready in the summertime really depends on the school. Several years ago, she taught in a small Lutheran high school where the teachers did pretty much everything, including the cleaning. That required a lot more summer hours.

At Shabbona, Wendling said her summer work includes getting the textbooks out and familiarizing herself with them. She teaches three different math subjects, so she has three books to browse and update lesson plans. She’ll spend time at online math education sites, as well, which she said is much easier than it used to be when teachers had to go to education libraries to get their information.

A big responsibility for teachers learning new technology.

“I spend a lot of time keeping up with technology,” Wendling said. “There are always new computer programs for kids, there are graphing calculators, and there are several great ways to use our Smartboards.”

Wendling does what she can to bring math to life for her students, using a Smartboard as one of her tools. With the computer-linked projection screen, she can display large replicas of the students’ textbook pages and draw on the diagrams to explain them.

But they’re not just fancy freehand chalkboards, she said. A geometric figure, for example, can be flipped, rotated, and enlarged.

She can play YouTube videos on the Smartboard, as well, to help students grasp a concept or show them how their math is used in the real world.

Wendling said teachers also take classes in the summer. Last year, she took three graduate classes at the University of Saint Francis. She said she has no idea how many hours she logs in each summer, but it’s usually a lot.

“My goal is to go in a little bit throughout the summer,” she said.

This summer, her room’s chalkboards were moved to a different side, the room was painted, and the furniture was moved around. She also hung new posters, including one another teacher made that has the new class times on it.

At Morris Community High School, algebra teacher Brenda Edwards spent much of her time the past few months teaching a summer skills academy at the school. That helped her get ready for the new year, she said, as she would spend a couple of hours after class preparing her room and lesson plans.

At the end of each school year, Edwards said she wraps it up by grading and making sure her math students are placed correctly for the next year. In June, there are curriculum days to work with fellow teachers.

“This year, we focused on the new standards,” she said, “The curriculum days give us that time together and give us ideas to think about during the summer.”

Right before school begins, Edwards said she would arrange her room and get the first day of activity ready, in addition to the lesson plans for the year. Though things will change as the first few weeks progress.

“It’s not set in stone,” she said. “You have to have some time to learn about your students. You have your basic guidelines set to get through the first couple of weeks, but things may change as you get a feel for your students.”

Edwards said students can be nervous the first few days of classes, but teachers can be a little antsy, as well.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking in a way,” she said, “but it’s exciting, too. It helps that the kids are excited to be back.”

The teachers had advice for students and parents for the first week of class. Edwards said it’s important for the students to make sure they know their schedules and that they are getting good sleep. A good nutritious breakfast is important, too.

Wendling said over the summer and throughout the year, parents can help their child’s education experience by talking to them about school and taking them on trips that are fun and also educational.

“It’s important for kids to see how what they learn at school can carry over into real life,” she said.

Belt said parents should be sure to keep a good vigil on their child’s daily school assignments, especially at the beginning of school.

“Have a conversation about school and assignments every day for at least the first month of school,” she said, “so the student becomes accustomed to reporting to their parents what they need to be doing every day. They need to get used to being accountable. It’s a good habit to get into.”

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