Teachers Gear Up for Day 1 at Boot Camp; Clay County Eases New Teachers into Classroom

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Byline: DEIRDRE CONNER

ORANGE PARK - There was no yelling or marching, and nary a push-up or bullhorn in sight.

But the Clay County school district calls its three-day crash course and orientation for new teachers a boot camp for a reason.

Plunging into the classroom for the first time, they say, can be as much a shock to the system as any induction into the military.

As longtime teachers told the group, teachers need as much seasoning as they can get before the first year in the classroom.

It's especially so for career-changers going into teaching through an alternative-certification program. They often walk into the classroom with little to no training on the first day. They make up about half of all of Clay County's new teachers and it's the same around the state, said Sandy Emery, the district's Title I supervisor.

That's why this week's training session focused on classroom management strategies - that's the term for what used to be called discipline - and the best way to lead classroom discussions.

Every detail of the school day must be planned out in a way most adults never could imagine: Can students get up to sharpen a pencil without permission? Must they raise their hand to ask a question or can they simply call it out? Where should they turn in their homework?

From the morning bell to dismissal, teachers have to be explicit about every expectation, especially when the smallest students might not even know how to walk in a line.

"It's something you never think about until you're in there [the classroom]," said Brian Gaglione, a retired attorney who will be a physical education teacher this school year, which starts Aug. 20.

The pre-school workshop started three years ago as an extra boost just for teachers going into Title I schools, which have a higher rate of poverty and get special federal funds. It's now county-wide.

It's a big help for nervous new teachers, no matter how much advance preparation they've done, Heather Reynolds said.

Reynolds will teach exceptional education at W.E. Cherry Elementary after working first in hotel management and banking, then in the school's media center.

She has already met her students and made a home video with her daughter to help them learn to cook. …