Students are not the only people feeling first-day jitters as school begins next Monday. Teachers, whether they are first-year teachers or veterans, are filled with nervous excitement as well. For first-year teachers Rachel Stewart and Olivia Riley, a summer of planning and preparation have kept them busy, and both are anxiously awaiting the first day on August 23rd.
Rachel Stewart is a first-year teacher and new science teacher at Grain Valley High School. Stewart will be teaching freshman physical science and sophomore biology. A native of Jefferson City and graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Stewart is new to the area and the district.
“I am so excited to be in a district that really cares about its students, and I’m excited to build relationships with my students,” Stewart said.
Stewart explains her path to the science classroom was pretty much a foregone conclusion.
“I had phenomenal science teachers and each of my siblings went into science fields. My mom worked for DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) and my dad was a supervising operator at the nuclear power plant where I lived, so you put those two things together and you get a science teacher,” Stewart quipped.
“I’ve always had a passion for science and I’m such a social person, teaching was just the right fit for me.”
Olivia Riley lives in Grain Valley and grew up in Lee’s Summit. Riley graduated from UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and is starting her first year of teaching as a music teacher at Matthews Elementary.
A lifelong love of music paved the way for Riley to pursue a career in teaching music.
“I really want to be that teacher that plants the idea that music is for everyone,” Riley said.
Riley said the expansiveness of the elementary music curriculum is what she loves most.
“The inclusivity of it is wonderful. We get to experience a full tour of music.”
Meetings for first-year teachers began two weeks ago, and their schedules have included a flurry of professional development sessions, meetings, and classroom preparation.
“It’s a lot of stress, but we have such a great team in this department. They’ve really taken care of me,” Stewart said.
“I don’t have any family up here, so it’s been a challenge. Having this community that is so open and welcoming really makes a difference.”
During an August 10th meeting for first-year teachers, the Grain Valley Education Foundation presented each teacher with a $100 check to help with supplies and classroom set-up. Stewart and Riley said the contributions are incredibly helpful as they prepare for their first year.
“That $100 means the world to me. If you look around my classroom at the decorations and supplies, almost all of it has been purchased by me, given to me by my parents, or given to me as graduation gifts. It’s very expensive, and that $100 can help me when I’m teaching, and I realize that a poster or model might help me get more hands on with my students or better explain a difficult concept. That $100 can be stretched so far. I had chills when they presented them to us,” Stewart said.
Riley agreed that the $100 gift helped relieve some of the stress of preparing a classroom as a first-year teacher.
“I knew as a teacher that most of the supplies and decorations were going to have to be purchased by me. It wasn’t even a question. Instruments are so expensive, so I knew my classroom budget would go for most of those items. After we received the gift from the Foundation, my mind was immediately racing, thinking of all the things I could purchase that could be used immediately by students,” Riley said.
Now that all of the prep work is coming to an end, Riley and Stewart are working through their first day of school jitters and focusing on the year ahead.
“I’m most looking forward to getting to meet my students. All of this preparation we do before hand is stressful, but once all the prep work is done and the students are in the classroom, I won’t be thinking about that. I am so excited to have that first moment of actual music making. After more than a year of not having those experiences (due to pandemic related mitigation efforts), I’m really excited to safely get back to some of those small musical moments,” Riley said.
“Our freshman will be having the same first-day jitters that I will be having. It’s the first day of high school for all of us. But it will be a great year,” Stewart said.