‘For the kids’

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 21, 2000

The empty halls of McLaurin Elementary School prove impenetrable to even the late summer sun, and but for one rectangle of florescent light thrown from a fifth grade classroom, the concrete corridor is cool and undisturbed.

Behind the open door decorated with curling construction-paper stars bearing her students names, first-time teacher Tricia Gill prepares for the first day of school.

&uot;I don’t remember my fifth-grade teacher,&uot; Gill said while labeling supplies.

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Through education both inside and out of the college classroom and intense preparation, Gill does not intend for the same to be true of the almost 60 fifth-graders she will help educate this year.

Unlike many teachers, Gill did not picture herself in a classroom until a few years ago.

After graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in business, Gill worked for a few years in that field and began a family. Wanting to spend more time with her son, now five, she decided to return to school at Copiah-Lincoln Community College and Alcorn State University to become a teacher.

&uot;I was a late bloomer,&uot; she said. &uot;I couldn’t decide what I wanted to be.&uot;

Once the decision was made, the reasons were simple.&uot;I love kids and children need a good education,&uot; Gill said.

The neat rows of desks of the week before are now arranged in haphazard clusters as Gill maneuvers between them, collecting scraps of paper and displaced text books. Once crisp name tags adorning the desktops are shriveled and torn by exposure to the movements of 10-year-olds. After finally seeing her students to the buses at the end of the day, Gill’s step is slightly slower.

The self-described nervous excitement Gill felt last week has now turned into confident determination.

One week into the new school year, first-hand experience – &uot;what they don’t teach you in college&uot; – has answered many of her questions.

&uot;I knew it would be a lot of work,&uot; Gill said. &uot;I raise (teaching) up there with being a doctor, only we don’t get paid as much.&uot;

Just as a doctor keeps atop medical discoveries and research, Gill said teachers must constantly learn.

As a new teacher, Gill said she is not only having to learn the curriculum material along with her students, she is also learning by &uot;trial and error&uot; which lesson plans work.

&uot;If you prepare a lesson and it goes well, it’s a rush,&uot; Gill said. &uot;It’s like an athlete winning a race.&uot;

Gill said she does not buy into the common complaint of teachers that her profession is a thankless job, preferring instead to call it a &uot;challenge.&uot;

&uot;I drag in at night dog-tired, but then you wake up energized,&uot; Gill said.

By learning from the previous day’s experiences, Gill said her goal is to make each new school day better than the one before.

One of the biggest, and most critical, challenges in meeting that goal is discipline, Gill said.

&uot;If you cannot control the class, they can’t learn,&uot; she said.

This year, Natchez-Adams County School District instituted a progressive approach to discipline matters called Positive Choices. While it is still early, Gill said she believes the program is working.

&uot;The word discipline means training, not punishment,&uot; Gill said. &uot;It’s all meant to be positive.&uot;

In gaining the respect of children, it is important to be consistent in discipline matters, Gill said. While keeping an unemotional even keel in discipline, Gill also said it is important to establish relationships with her students.

&uot;Just like any relationship, you don’t just trust somebody right off the bat,&uot; she said.

When her students sat down at their desks the first day of school, they found a letter from Gill introducing herself and welcoming them to the fifth grade.

The students first assignment was to respond by composing a letter to Gill about themselves.

Gill said the assignment not only helped lay the foundation for a student-teacher relationship, it gave her an idea on where the students stood academically.

Equally important is a strong rapport with parents, Gill said. Earlier this summer, Gill called the parents of her students to introduce herself and her plans for the school year.

Gill said she feels good about the progress that has been made toward creating relationships with her students. She knows all her students by name, and last week, one student wrote her a personal poem as a journal assignment

Gill admits she still has many questions, and she expects the first year to be &uot;a lot of hard work,&uot; but she is still enthusiastic.

&uot;This is why I’m doing this; it’s for the kids,&uot; she said.