Tuesday is a big day for students … and teachers

What do I wear … what do I take … will I meet new friends … am I prepared?

These questions are swirling around Carlie Spence as she readies for her first day of middle school.

Tuesday is a big day for thousands of area kids who start school in the Meridian and Boise districts.

Meridian teachers
Meridian educators Carlie Spence, Lisa Austin and Carmen Uscola

It’s also a big day for Spence, who just completed college and Tuesday is her first day as a teacher. She begins with 90 sixth graders in English Language Arts. The anticipation and anxiety is as strong for her as it is for her students.

“They are new to middle school, just like me, and I think they will be timid and want to listen,” Spence said. “I’ve got the first day for sure … its those next days.”

Carmen Uscola also will be teaching at Meridian Middle School for the first time. After a 10-year career in finance, Uscola recently became a special education teacher. She will work with the same 15 students every day all day, dealing not only with educational goals but also life and social skills.

“I’m nervous because I want to be good at this,” Uscola said. “I want to do the best thing for these kids. My fear is that I’m going to mess it up.”

Principal Lisa Austin isn’t the least big worried about her newbies. She has great confidence in her new hires and she’s made it clear to them that they can find support in her office or with experienced teachers. Austin strategically placed Spence in a room that’s near a teacher starting her 30th year.

“They are going to be working hard and it’s a steep learning curve,” said Austin, who is in her seventh year as principal of Meridian Middle. “It isn’t sink or swim here. I’ve established an open door and I’ve made it clear they can come to me.”

Both new teachers will start Tuesday with a care package from Austin that includes almonds, granola bars, back scratchers, Aleve and Tums.

“This is a great place for them to start because we have a fun, close-knit staff,” Austin said. “We meet weekly to collaborate and share — that includes talking about what was a total flop.”

Spence will spend the first day of school on “The Three Rs” — rules of the school, respect and responsibility. She’ll hand out a syllabus with clear expectations for the year.

“I’m most confident in my ability to engage students,” Spence said based on her student-teaching experiences.

She’ll have about 30 students in her three classes that last 90 minutes each. Her style is to facilitate learning by encouraging students to learn from each other.

“With inclusion and collaboration, they start to teach themselves,” Spence said. “I’m ready to get into the classroom and make a difference.”

Uscola said she is not sure if she’s fully prepared for this, but her background in a different profession has given her confidence in handling conflict and resolution.

“What I bring to the table is knowing how to communicate and deal with people,” said Uscola, who is just 12 credits away from her master’s degree. “Because I haven’t been in teaching long, I know I don’t have all the answers but I’m confident that I can find them.”

Uscola’s teaching style is based on the expectation that every student can succeed: “You have to find something in every kid that you can draw from and connect with.”

Austin said teaching is founded on building relationships with kids and smiling every day.

“Before you can build content, you’ve got to win them over,” Austin said. “They have to know that you care about them and that you’re going to learn together.”

Austin offered this advice for Tuesday: “Teachers on  the first day have to be confident even if you think you are going to fall apart. You have to tell yourself, ‘I’ve got this’. After that, a teacher has to be encouraging and forgiving every single day.”

We are going to Meridian Middle School on Tuesday to find out how the first day of school went for these educators. Check back for that story Tuesday night.

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