Back-to-school crunch

  • Article by: JULIE PFITZINGER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 14, 2012 - 6:16 PM

It's not just the students getting ready for the fall sessions to begin. Teachers are in the midst of preparation, too.

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Sharon Maurer prepared her preschool classroom at Woodbury Preschool Programs on Steepleview on July 25.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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It's August, and while kids (and parents) may not want to face reality, it is time to start getting ready to head back to school. Mary Rose, a teacher at Highwood Hills Elementary in St. Paul, knows this means not one, but four trips to Target to shop for school supplies -- one with each of her three children (a senior, a sophomore and an eighth-grader) and one for her second- grade students.

"I can only wrap my head around one school supply list at a time," said Rose with a laugh. "After my kids are done, I go back and stock up on stuff for my classroom like pencils, notebooks, glue sticks and things that many of my students just don't have."

For teachers, getting ready for the beginning of the school year requires much more than just shopping. There are workshops to attend, curriculums to plan, staff meetings and classroom preparations to make in the days before they welcome students back to class. In Minneapolis, school begins Aug. 27 for grades one through 12, and in St. Paul, the first day is Sept. 4.

"I consider the month of June my real vacation because, really, once July hits, I'm already starting to think about the new year and planning what I want to do with students," said Rose, who will be returning to Highwood Hills for her second year but has been teaching for 20 years. "During the school year, you really don't have the luxury of coming up with new ideas. As soon as that first day of school hits, you're on."

Sharon Maurer teaches preschool at Woodbury Preschool Programs on Steepleview and knows that August will bring workshops and meetings with colleagues as they get ready to meet the littlest students -- many of whom will be going to school for the first time.

On the checklist

In addition to reviewing health and safety policies as well as other state-mandated topics, Maurer and her colleagues look at the year ahead and discuss lesson plans, including ways they can bring the outside world into the classroom. For example, since this is an election year, Maurer's 4-year-olds will be voting on their favorite snacks as a way to work on their pre-math skills by counting tally marks.

She will also spend several hours getting her classroom ready, featuring a classic "back-to-school" theme. With 10 students in the morning and another 10 in the afternoon, Maurer has a lot of cubbyholes and bulletin boards to prepare.

"I write each child's name at least seven times, which is redundant for me, but not for them," she said.

Maurer has to have everything ready for the school's open house, which typically takes place a few days before the first day of school, so the little ones and their parents can see the classroom and meet their teacher for the first time.

"That's a pretty important day for the children," she said. "They need to see where they are going to be. It does make a difference, because most of them walk through the door on the first day in September and are just fine."

On the home front

Although Maurer's three children are older, she will also be making time at the end of August to send her youngest son off to the University of Minnesota for his freshman year.

"When my oldest daughter went to college, we spent the summer doing a lot of dorm-room shopping. My son will probably just have some boxes and a few bags packed," she said with a laugh. "But I have to make sure I'm available for him on move-in day."

Both Rose and Maurer said they love teaching, but think the notion that teachers (many of whom attend classes, teach summer school or hold seasonal jobs) have the whole summer off can be misleading.

"I guess I would say summer vacation really ends for me the second week of August," said Rose. "I feel like I do get a mental-health break from school, but it's not the break that most people think it is, by any means."

Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer.

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