The red carpet had been rolled out for the students at J.W. Reason Elementary School in Hilliard.
Outside the front entrance, Amanda Chapman, a 2008 Anderson University graduate, eagerly awaited her fourth-graders, wearing a turquoise flowered dress she’d picked out a month earlier because she thought it made her look welcoming.
Four times the previous night, she woke up worrying, usually about recess. She had nothing left to prepare yesterday morning but arrived to her classroom an hour early, just in case.
On the first day of school, in her first year as a full-time teacher, Chapman never felt entirely ready.
Bus after bus started to pull into the driveway, each unleashing swarms of students to their teachers. Nearby, a DJ began blasting a Rihanna song.
“Oh, my goodness,” she said quietly, before it was time to be Miss Chapman, ever enthusiastic.
She greeted her 25 students, every sentence seeming to end with an exclamation mark. Parents approached her with cellphone cameras; a boy gave her a Batman sticker that she wore throughout the day.
“How are you feeling?” Miss Chapman asked one student. “Good?”
“All sorts,” Kaitlyn Redd replied.
“All sorts,” her teacher repeated, nodding. “I agree with you.”
Chapman, 26, had been anticipating such a day since she was younger than her students.
Her first classroom was established in a shed in her Dayton backyard. Amid garden tools and Christmas decorations, a pre-adolescent Amanda taught lessons out of old textbooks bought at garage sales and made a chart of imaginary students whose pictures she’d cut out of magazines.
“It was fun for me,” she said. “I thought, ‘Maybe it’ll be fun to do this all my life.’ ”
But after graduating in 2008 from Anderson University in Indiana, Chapman found only substitute-teaching work as school levies failed and budgets tightened.
Not until this year did she secure her own classroom, one of 41 first-year teachers hired in Hilliard after the district last year offered retirement incentives.
As the school bell rang at 9 a.m. yesterday, Miss Chapman led her class down the red carpet and inside to Room 26, where she began explaining the day’s schedule and procedures, almost always calling the students “friends” so they felt included.
Between a morning assembly and music class, she had planned to squeeze in two games, a book reading and snack time.
But some friends, Miss Chapman quickly learned, can hardly do anything — line up at the door, move from desks to the carpet — without offering some commentary.
“Miss Chapman is going to wait,” she said politely and often, looking toward the offenders, “ because Miss Chapman doesn’t talk over people.”
With all the interruptions, she barely finished the first game before recess.
Commotion aside, lunchtime reviews of the new teacher proved favorable: Addison Lane pointed out that Miss Chapman never got upset; Logan McCloy acknowledged that he was paying better-than-usual attention.
Miss Chapman’s halftime assessment: “Oh, man. I’m ready for a break.”
She quickly ate a salad and fruit before heading outside to recess, where she avoided taking a couple of kickballs to the head and found company for a lonely new student in need of a playmate.
Upon returning to class, students unpacked school supplies as Miss Chapman answered nonstop questions about inoperable pens or folder labeling.
An hour passed before she could, as planned, read a book about acts of kindness and ask students to brainstorm ways to care for one another — a school theme for the year.
Still, some struggled to follow the advice they had given.
One continually misbehaving student was sent to the principal’s office for telling another to shut up. After much encouragement from Miss Chapman, a new boy with special needs had to leave class, too upset to participate.
Requests for quiet became a little less upbeat.
“That makes Miss Chapman sad,” she told the class after one outburst.
To end the day with some fun, Miss Chapman answered questions — about whether she has children (no), for example, and likes bugs (yes). The students guessed her age, with estimates ranging from 19 to 32.
Escorting the students outside to buses and parents, she waved goodbye before letting out a sigh.
“I do love the kiddos; it’s going to be exciting to get to know them,” she said. “But I’m tired. I am.”
She hadn’t anticipated so many interruptions, imagining fourth-graders as a little more mature than they might be.
Teachers reassured her, praising how she had handled the chaos. She felt a bit unsure.
Meanwhile, one of her students, Colton Gross, told a staff member that he loved J.W. Reason so much, he never wanted to leave.
“All these years, I’ve had nice teachers,” he explained, “but Miss Chapman is the nicest one."
—Amy Saunders is a reporter for The Columbus Dispatch. Photo credit: Eric Albrecht. Story republished with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.