Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Elizabeth Tanner, a third-grade teacher at Vidalia Upper Elementary School, dances Friday morning while telling her class how excited she is to start the new school year with them. Inset below, social studies teacher Timothy Smith, left, introduces himself to a classroom of sixth-grade students Friday morning during the first day of classes at Vidalia Junior High School
Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Elizabeth Tanner, a third-grade teacher at Vidalia Upper Elementary School, dances Friday morning while telling her class how excited she is to start the new school year with them.

New Concordia teachers shake off nerves on first day of school

Published 12:01am Saturday, August 10, 2013

VIDALIA — Elizabeth Tanner started her 32nd first day of school Thursday with the same nervousness that she felt every year before.

“I’m just as nervous as the students are to be here,” Tanner said, laughing, after completing her first day at Vidalia Upper Elementary School. “It doesn’t matter how many times I do this, I’ll still be nervous each and every time.”

The third-grade teacher, who previously taught at Morgantown Elementary School and Trinity Episcopal Day School, recently came out of retirement to get back in the classroom.

“I thought it was my time to retire, but then I just couldn’t not be teaching anymore,” Tanner said. “This is what I was born to do, and I just couldn’t stay away.”

Tanner, along with all other teachers and students in Concordia Parish Schools, started their first day Friday with a half-day of class.

Even though she only got to spend a few hours with her new students, Tanner said the group accomplished a lot.

“Everyone introduced themselves, we went over our rules, and they even made some of their own,” Tanner said, pointing to a list on the dry-erase board. “I told them I had one rule, but they had to make the other four.

“My only rule is that they keep their dear teacher happy.”

With the first day of school crossed off her list, Tanner said she will now focus on learning each one of her students’ names and faces as well as tailoring her teaching methods to them.

“I have to find out what works with this group and go with that,” Tanner said. “I can’t just teach one certain way that some of the kids might not respond to, so I have to keep changing and adapting to what suits them.”

Across town at Vidalia Junior High School, Tim Smith also began his first day of school.

Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Timothy Smith, left, introduces himself to a classroom of sixth-grade students Friday morning during the first day of classes at Vidalia Junior High School.
Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Timothy Smith, left, introduces himself to a classroom of sixth-grade students Friday morning during the first day of classes at Vidalia Junior High School.

But Smith’s journey to the classroom took a slightly different path.

“I used to build fire trucks for a living,” Smith said to one of his sixth-grade students who asked what he did before he became a teacher. “Now, I’m here with you guys to help teach y’all about history.”

Smith, who is originally from Hammond, La., previously worked at Ferrara Fire Apparatus in Holden, La., until he said a higher calling pointed him to the classroom.

“My wife and I were both working as youth ministers at the time, and I just realized teaching was what I should be doing,” Smith said. “I went back to school and got my degrees and started working with credit recovery programs near Birmingham, Ala.”

After Smith’s wife, Angela, was offered a job as the home economics teacher at Vidalia High School, Smith said the position at the junior high school came up during a casual conversation.

“She said, ‘They have a job opening as a social studies teacher — do you want it?’” he said. “I looked at her and said, ‘Of course.’”

Smith, his wife and their four children moved to Natchez last month and began settling into their new classrooms at each of their schools preparing for the first day.

“I’m having a great first day,” Smith said as his final group of students walked in for seventh period. “This is what I was made to do.”

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