Bulldog statue

OTTUMWA — First-day jitters are common for preschoolers and kindergarteners when they start school. They might not be the only ones, though.

As Ottumwa students head back to class Friday, veteran teachers Sarah Ziegler and Heidi Owens shared some advice with new teachers facing their first day at the head of the class.

“Your first day, establish classroom expectations based on PBIS standards and let the students be a part of that,” said Ziegler, a special education and English/language arts teacher at Evans Middle School.

Owens, a kindergarten teacher at Horace Mann Elementary School, agreed with setting expectations the first day: “Have fun, but set classroom rules. Involve the students in making rules for the classroom.”

Owens also places emphasis on taking time to get familiar with the students. “Do an activity to get to know your students,” she said. “Work on learning students’ names and having students in your class learn each others’ names.”

Ziegler expanded on developing relationships with students. She puts great emphasis on becoming a teacher that students can trust. “We can’t underestimate the power of one trusted adult in the life of a child,” she said. She maintains a philosophy of restoring a child rather than being punitive when they act out. “That restores my power as a teacher. It shows I can be trusted. Without trust and respect between teachers and students, learning will not happen.”

She also spoke on the importance of all teachers being on the same page. “Recognize the district’s initiatives and teach them with your whole heart, whether you agree with them or not,” she said. “Nothing is successful if we’re not on the same page.”

Her advice went beyond the classroom as well. She said it’s important for teachers to engage in things outside of school to “keep you human.”

“I’m not just a teacher,” she said.

But the biggest piece of advice she had for new teachers was on the emotional level: “You have to be in charge of the way you feel,” she said. “We deal with kids that are so damaged sometimes, and they’re behaving based on their conditioning. An angry student might try to provoke you. If you don’t control your emotions, the students will.”

And that plays back to here restore rather than punish mentality.

Owens spoke about working to put the kids at ease as well. “Remember, students are nervous the first day, so kind words and a smile mean a lot,” she said. “Be prepared for the first day, but above all, keep a sense of humor.”

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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