The darkened hallway belies the bustle of activity in some classrooms at Lyseth Elementary School in Portland.

Hope Keleher is moving desks and hauling boxes, preparing her classroom for the first-graders who will arrive Sept. 7. Keleher, who lives in Topsham, is returning to teaching after an extended leave of absence to start a family.

“I’ll be in every day this week and a few days each week through the start of school,” Keleher says, explaining why she’s at work in early August. “Most of my instructional planning I’m doing at home. But I have a lot of work to do here, going through materials left by a teacher who retired and materials I’m bringing from home.”

Though technically on vacation, many teachers spend time in their classrooms during the summer. For some, it’s a must, because they’re moving into a new classroom or a new school. For others, it’s how they stay connected with other staff members, develop lesson plans for the year ahead and create learning environments that will support their lesson plans.

Down the hall at Lyseth Elementary School, Marilyn Philbrook is decorating a bulletin board in the hallway outside her classroom. Her incoming fourth-graders were instructed in June to collect postcards wherever they travel this summer.

The postcards will be displayed on the bulletin board and used as learning tools in geography lessons. The project will continue throughout the year, using postcards that her students collect on future trips or receive from friends and relatives.

“I always try to come in on cloudy days,” says Philbrook, a 21-year teaching veteran who lives in Portland. “Most of the work I’m doing here is about room setup. I do a lot of lesson planning at home — in the middle of the night, unfortunately. I wake up and something comes to me and I get up and write it down.”

At Scarborough High School, Jay Vance is setting up a computer grading system and working on a website he created for his freshman English students. It will feature daily assignments for each class, worksheets that students can download, and a reading list ranging from Homer’s “Odyssey” to Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Vance, who lives in South Portland, usually spends an hour or two a few days each week at school, starting in mid-July.

“I’m getting ready for the beginning of the year,” he explains. “Every year we tweak the curriculum a little bit, and I don’t like to be overwhelmed just before school starts. I want to know where I’m going before I start.”

At Lyman Moore Middle School in Portland, Carol Hager is packing up materials she used as a teacher in the district’s program for gifted and talented students. She’s returning to a regular classroom as a math teacher at Lincoln Middle School. Her husband, Eric, and her son, Noah, are helping her move.

“This is a big change for me,” says Hager, who lives in Portland. “I’m thrilled about moving to Lincoln and I’m excited about the positive momentum that’s building in Portland schools. There are a lot of things still to be accomplished, but I think we’re heading in right direction.”

Hager says the threat of another state funding cut weighs heavily on all teachers, but it’s nothing new.

“It’s been like that for several years,” she says. “So you’ve got to make do and be glad to have a job at the end of the year.”

Hager says it also helps to use community resources such as DonorsChoose.org, a website that allows people to make donations for materials or equipment that teachers need for special school projects. Elsewhere in Lyman Moore Middle School, Lee McKay is organizing a science storeroom and lab equipment for his eighth-graders. A radio plays rock music in the background.

McKay, who lives in South Portland, is returning to the classroom after a year’s sabbatical. Formerly a teacher at Portland High School, McKay is developing an eighth-grade lesson plan from scratch, including an interactive weblog that he hopes will reduce the amount of paper used in his classroom.

McKay plans to take his students on a tour de force of science, technology and engineering, with topics ranging from hurricanes and constellations to matter and energy.

“It’s a new curriculum for me, though I started at Moore 20 years ago,” he says. “I’m in here today trying to get a sense of how it’s all going to work.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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