Back when she entered the first grade, Kristen Kron can still vividly remember the knots in her stomach.
“Oh my gosh, the first day, I definitely cried,” she recalls.
Chalk that up to inexperience, fear of going to school for the first time or maybe even worries about getting delegated to that “un-cool” crowd.
This month, thousands of children will go through the same feelings as they head back to class for the year. Turns out, Kron will be a little nervous, too. She’s about to start her first day of school all over again—this time as a second-grade teacher at Legacy Elementary in Frederick.
“Of course I’m definitely a little nervous,” says the 23-year-old, who recently graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder. “Any new chapter in life, you have a little nerves. That knot in your stomach is the same. But I don’t think it comes from the same place. Am I going to be the popular teacher? I don’t think about that.”
Her situation is often overlooked. When schools open each August, most wonder about the first-day jitters the students face. Will they be called on to answer a question they don’t know? Or maybe they’ll be wearing the clothes that were only hip last year. A flub on the first day can be devastating for an adolescent. That’s a lot of pressure, for elementary students and high schoolers alike.
The experience isn’t all that different for a newbie teacher.
One slip up, and you stand to lose the respect of 27 children for the year. Ok, maybe it’s not that bad, but still, rookie teachers have plenty of issues to worry about on Day One.
“There are tons of fears; I’m glad you are doing this story,” Kron says.
And you can’t exactly sit in the corner and cry if it becomes overwhelming.“I have to be the pillar of the classroom,” says Melissa Tobin, who will start her first year of teaching first grade at Longmont’s Columbine Elementary School.
“I am the pin that holds the community together. Regardless of what I’m feeling inside I need to present myself as somebody who’s calm.”
These feelings are common, and others take notice, too.
“Your first few days, you’re trying to learn the ropes of it,” says Eddie Cloke, principal at Columbine Elementary. “Regardless of what you learned in college about teaching, it’s different when you get into the classroom.
“It’s a bit of a shock.”
Mix that in with trying to get a classroom in order, lesson plans together and names memorized, and the stress starts to build exponentially.
“Oh I think it will be a mix of excitement and nervousness,” Tobin says. “I’m thinking about the kids I’m going to have much like an expectant parent—I know their name but not who they are. I wake up in the middle of the night: Have I thought of everything? Are my bulletin boards going to be in order?”
Cloke doesn’t sweat scared teachers. It’s typical, and he says the key to overcoming those concerns is relying on support systems in place for the new teachers. At Columbine, beyond holding a new teacher orientation, Cloke pairs beginners with veterans who answer questions and ease concerns. “For the first month they might just mimic what the other teacher does,” he says, “until they get their bearings.”
Judging by the first few days that teachers were in Columbine’s halls, it’s probably a good thing Cloke uses the pairing system. “They are asking all of these questions,” he says of his most inexperienced teachers who are a bit overwhelmed as the back to school clock keeps ticking.
Kron says she’s confident her studies and student-teaching experience have her ready for two-dozen 7 and 8 year olds. Yet her long list of worries still includes whether she can organize her classroom in time, plan lessons well and offer her students the best education. It’s the stuff that form nightmares—something Kron’s aunt, a five-year teaching veteran, has already warned her about.
“My aunt…told me to expect tons of nightmares,” Kron says in July, a little more than a month before her school’s Aug. 20 start date. “She just started having them.” Beyond her aunt, Kron has her own support system to lean on through her graduate work at CU. The school sends a specialist once a week to check in on its graduate-level students. These specialists observe, answer questions and make sure that new teachers such as Kron are adapting well.
Beyond that, Kron’s relying on her training—as are many teachers—and simply knowing the nerves are part of the fun of being a teacher.
“You won’t crumple and fall and die,” she says. “I think I’ve just always had it in me. I’ve always loved teaching. I’ve always loved learning.”
Tobin echoes those thoughts and even thrives on the nervousness: “That gives me a burst of energy. I actually enjoy the feeling of the butterflies.”