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Teachers survive Day One

| September 2, 2005 12:00 AM

By STEVE KADEL Western News Reporter

First-year teacher Kelly Morford got a mild challenge Wednesday even before the new school year began.

A freshman came to the classroom door and asked what time first period began. Told it started at 8:25 a.m., the student replied, "Do we have to be sitting in our chairs then?"

"I would like it," Morford said. "You don't want to get a tardy on the first class of your first day here."

That was as close as Morford came to any sort of problem during his maiden voyage into the teaching profession. His very first class — introduction to computers — got off and running without a hitch as Morford took roll, explained classroom rules and expectations, and told a little about himself.

He appeared as confident as a veteran, occasionally joking with students while keeping them on task.

But there were butterflies the night before. Morford was still puttering around his new classroom at 7 p.m. Tuesday, arranging things for his debut.

"I kept finding stuff to do to make sure I was ready," he said. "It was better than being at home wondering if I was ready."

He told his students that the rules are simple. Behave like young adults and everything will go well. Don't cheat, for example. Obvious things like that.

The business teacher came dressed for business in a crisply pressed blue striped shirt, a tie and tan slacks. The tie had pictures of baseballs on it — a clue to Morford's past. He was a scholarship baseball player at Dickinson State University in North Dakota, and spent the last three summer coaching the Whitefish Glacier Twins ball team.

Students were not-so-subtly encouraged to root for the Minnesota Twins.

"There aren't any Yankee fans in here I hope," Morford added.

One student raised his hand, prompting the teacher to joke, "You're already down to a C."

On the other side of the building, another newly hired Libby High School teacher was getting her feet wet, too. Art teacher Joan Kallay walked her ceramics class students through the same sort of orientation that each staff member focused on Wednesday.

However, she peppered the talk with questions to make kids think — "Why do we make public art? How do you define it?"

As the clock crept closer to noon, Kallay stated an art theory and asked if students thought it made sense. Then she paused, noticing a student's odd expression.

"Sam's got this face," Kallay said.

"Oh, I was thinking about lunch," the girl confessed.

Kallay, who has taught for several years besides having worked as an art museum curator, proved she could be tough when necessary. An example came eight minutes before class ended, when a very tardy student wandered in wearing a T-shirt with a beer company logo.

"Are you supposed to be here?" Kallay asked.

"Yeah," the boy said.

"Well, the first thing I need you to do is go to the bathroom and turn your shirt inside out and take your hat off," the teacher said.

When the bell rang to signal lunch period, the ceramics room cleared out fast. Students hung out in the hallway with pizza slices or sandwiches while others headed outside to talk and soak up some sun.

A girl walked down the hallway talking on her cell phone. Nearby, a boy walked up to three of his male friends and high-fived them. "Give him a hug," one boy urged with a laugh. "Go on."

The teachers lounge was a bit less rowdy as staff members tossed down a quick lunch. Most of them, that is. Morford and Josh Bean, another teacher on his career's first day, settled for soft drinks in Morford's empty classroom.

How had the morning gone?

"Easier than expected," said Morford, his voice already a little hoarse. "The fears were greater than the reality."

Bean said the same thing, but noted that 50 minutes of talking was unusual for a physical education teacher.

"It's probably longer than I'll talk again all year," he said.

Meanwhile, staff members at Asa Wood Elementary School were also bustling through the first day of classes. Office manager Sherrie Beagle fielded phone call after phone call, telling one caller, "I'm earning my money today."

The school's open house on Tuesday night went a long way toward preparing students for opening morning, Beagle said.

"It was wonderful," she said. "One teacher said parents of 16 of her 17 students attended. If there was a problem, it was solved last night."

That's because students used the open house as a chance to find their classroom, meet their teacher, and even put supplies into their desk.

Asa Wood's book fair also kicked off Tuesday night, with $700 in children's book sales during the two-hour session. The fair continues through Thursday.

Asa Wood principal Ken Foss agreed the open house helped children settle in. He estimated an 80 percent turnout of parents for the session.

True enrollment numbers won't be known at any of the three Libby public schools until late September. However, Foss said enrollment at Asa Wood might be slightly higher than a year ago.

"It's looking pretty good," he said. "I think we'll be a little bit increased."

Pupils happily filed out of Asa Wood and boarded buses for home about 3 p.m. The elementary school staff was ready to celebrate as well, with several pizzas and a big cake marking the end of Day One.