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Middle-school teachers prepare for new students and curriculum

A Lincolnton Middle School teacher secures educational posters as she readies her classroom for the new school year.

AMANDA SEBASTIANO
Staff Writer

“There is this misconception that teachers get the summer off, but we’re still working — researching and making sure we’re using effective teaching methods with our classes,” said Stacy McClain, seventh-grade English Language Arts and social studies teacher at Lincolnton Middle School.
“We’re definitely still doing the leg work, always doing something with education throughout the summer.”
Though the majority of Lincoln County students don’t go back to school until Aug. 27, the hallways of Lincolnton Middle School are already bustling with activity as teachers prepare for the upcoming school year and their first day back next week.
Cleaning products, cardboard boxes filled with last year’s textbooks and shopping bags filled with new classroom decorations lined the floors of classrooms Thursday as the few teachers on campus started the back-to-school process.
McClain knew she had her work cut out for her as she said goodbye to her students in May. She taught sixth-graders last year, but is moving up to seventh grade. New students, new classroom and new material to teach her students to ensure they are in compliance with new curriculum changes — Common Core State Standards and Essential Standards that will be implemented across the state in the 2012-2013 school year.
McClain is getting ready to start her third year of teaching, after a paralegal career and owning her own business as a manicurist. She got into the education field later in life, she said, but realized a few years ago that she wanted to be a teacher.
Today, she can be found reorganizing her classroom — hanging posters, straightening desks and finding places for materials she’ll need in the next couple of weeks.
“It’s amazing what you find when you’re unpacking everything,” McClain told the Times-News Thursday.
“You look back on what you used last year — what worked and what didn’t — and use the successful tools again.”
The school was undergoing some deep cleaning over the summer.
McClain works with her mentor, Kim Crump, who has been teaching for 27 years — most of which have been at Lincolnton Middle. Crump checks up on McClain at least once a week to see how she’s doing, and answers any questions she might have. Her back-to-school progress was a bit further along than McClain’s, but that comes with years of experience, she said. More experienced teachers learn the do’s and dont’s over the years that make preparations easier every fall.
Outside of which color paper to line feel-good posters with, Crump has also changed her teaching style a bit over the years, trying to be considerate of her students’ extracurricular activities and lives outside of school. If a child has church on Wednesday nights or soccer practice, she will try her best not to bog them down, she said.
Crump’s eighth-grade social studies room is ready to go, desks aligned in rows and decorations set for her new learners, while McClain wraps up her last minute housekeeping across the building.
The three-year rookie has learned a few tricks along the way — keeping stored supplies in crates and putting them in her cabinets that way so they stayed organized over the system is her newest trick is proud of, she said, as she showed off her spic-and-span space.
What she may not be quite as prepared for are what will happen in the upcoming school year with a new bunch of seventh-graders.
“As my husband likes to say, ‘Be prepared for the unexpected,’ “ she said.
She laughed about an incident that occurred last year when she was teaching her fresh out of fifth-graders. A child pulled out a tooth in class. “You guys still have baby teeth?” she asked the group and had no idea what to do, she said.
On the more technical side of her preparations, McClain has put together lesson plans she hopes will keep her students within the stipulations of the standards; she isn’t the only instructor who has the changes weighing heavy on her mind. Down the hall from Crump is her sister, Stephanie Jacobs, who has been preparing a teaching notebook filled with a calendar and checklists of what her eighth-grade science students should be learning to be in compliance with the new curriculum.
Over the summer, Jacobs also was utilizing technology around her to create a way for parents to connect to her class blog right from their smart phones. She created a bar code that is displayed on the welcome sign near the entrance to her classroom. If parents with a bar code reading-application scan the bar code, they will be taken directly to the blog where Jacobs’ contact information can be found as well, she said.
The 14-year teacher may have inspired McClain to search for new technological ways to get parents involved, too, as she showed her co-worker  how to use the app.
“I’ve been teaching the same things for five years,” Jacobs said. “I mean, I tweak things a little bit, but with these (curriculum) changes it’s like I’m starting all over.”
Next week, teachers at LMS will be preparing for Thursday’s open house, while also attending Professional Development workshops — meetings where teachers collaborate on lesson plans and share ideas of what has worked for them and what hasn’t.
Though more muscle work has been put into her preparations for this school year than in previous, at the end of the day, McClain said she is grateful she has a job and loves what she does.

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