SOUTH PORTLAND – Sarah Glenn did everything she could to ease her nerves.

She went to bed early, had an outfit ready and packed her lunch the night before.

She got to Memorial Middle School an hour before classes started Tuesday, so she’d have time to connect her iPad to the projector and work out any problems that arose.

But before she got in the door of the Wescott Street school, her tote of binders – one of four bags of supplies she was carrying– broke in the parking lot and spilled onto the pavement.

She feared it was a sign of things to come that day – her first as a full-time teacher with a classroom of her own.

“I took it as a bad omen,” she said with a smile.

Tuesday was the first day of school in many districts in southern Maine, but students weren’t the only ones with the jitters. As students nervously entered new schools and advanced to new grade levels, some of their teachers were starting new careers. The Portland Press Herald followed Glenn around Tuesday to see the first day of school through the eyes of a first-time teacher.

Glenn, 24, finished her master’s degree in education at the University of Southern Maine in May and, a month later, got the job offer in South Portland. Since then, she’s been preparing herself for Tuesday.

She got a key in August to Room 308, on the third floor to the right of the stairs and possibly the hottest room in the 46-year-old building.

She put up posters on the pale yellow walls, including the periodic table and a picture of a jet taking off with “AWESOMENESS” written below.

On a corkboard by her desk hang pictures of Glenn with her friends and her husband and her Boston terrier, Bruno. A felt flower is wrapped around the faucet of the lab bench at the front of the room.

A PASSION FOR SCIENCE

Glenn’s real passion is science, which she studied as an undergraduate at the USM. She’s teaching three eighth-grade classes on that subject and one on language arts. But first was homeroom.

“Let’s get started,” Glenn said, as her 23 students sat down at their desks, the boys on one side and the girls on the other.

“Who had a hard time getting up this morning?” she asked.

Hands went up, including Glenn’s.

“That was probably the hardest part for me, for sure,” she said.

Glenn took attendance and, a couple of times, had to ask the class to keep the chatter down. She handed out paperwork for parents, licking her forefinger before grabbing each sheet off the top of the pile and giving it to the students, who walked up to her desk one by one, their unscuffed sneakers squeaking on the tile floor.

After accompanying her home-room students to an eighth-grade assembly, Glenn had her first language arts class. And before the period ended, she knew all of their names, a track record she maintained throughout the day, during which three different Tylers walked through her door.

Each of her classes watched a presentation projected on a screen in front of the room. It included pictures of Glenn’s pets — Bruno and a cat named Margarita that Glenn told them she doesn’t particularly like — as well as a list of her expectations for their behavior during class: be prompt, positive, polite, prepared and productive.

“I hope this is the most I’ll talk all year,” she told them. “I don’t like to stand up here and lecture.”

She also doesn’t like giving out tons of homework, Glenn told them, and won’t assign a lot unless class time isn’t productive.

“If you don’t waste my time in class, I won’t waste yours,” she said.

She also gave her language arts and science students in-class writing assignments, which they completed with country music playing in the background.

A few students read aloud short paragraphs they wrote about themselves. The boys said they liked rap music and watching sports shows. For girls, it was reality television.

Glenn read her own. She likes the Zac Brown Band and Journey. Mashed potatoes are her favorite food. She once stayed up all night reading “The Hunger Games.”

As the students left after period three, Glenn let out a sigh. She had her first free period. A teacher stopped by to ask how the day was going.

“So far, so good,” Glenn said.

The hardest part, she admitted, was homeroom, mostly because she didn’t know her way around well enough to answer their questions.

“When they’re like, ‘I can’t find my locker,’ I’m like, ‘Neither can I,” she said, laughing.

Glenn took out the salad she packed. She hadn’t been shown the teacher’s lounge yet to know where to keep her lunch. “So that’s a goal of this week,” she said, “to find the fridge.”

After eating at her desk, she headed down to cafetorium for another first in her new career.

“Are you stuck on lunch duty on your first day?” asked Assistant Principal Steve Chabot as he walked by her in the hall.

LUNCH DUTY CALLS

Glenn stood in the doorway as the students filed through. Once they were inside, she weaved between the tables, watching the students as they munched on the nachos, ravioli and sweet potato bites on the menu. Some gaggles of girls squished together on benches. One boy sat alone.

When they put their trays away, Glenn picked up the rags used to wipe down the tables and put them in a wash bucket. She counted her first lunch duty a success.

“No food fight,” she said, smiling.

A silent-reading period was scheduled after lunch, but no one brought a book on the first day. Glenn pointed out the shelves in the back of the room where there were books they could borrow in the future. Starting tomorrow, she said, it would be a time for reading only — no going to the bathroom or getting a drink.

“It’s really important that we read every day,” Glenn told them.

Glenn’s final period of the day was an intervention seminar, a time for students to work on homework or get extra help from teachers. With no assignments for her students to work on, Glenn went over the rules for the seminar and let them talk among themselves.

The new teacher rolled her desk chair up to students and asked them how their first day had been. It was too hot in the classroom, they said. She told them they were welcome to bring water bottles tomorrow.

At 2:15 p.m., the bell rang twice. “Students may now be dismissed,” came the announcement over the intercom.

Glenn waved as they left for their buses. “Bye, guys. Have a good night,” she said.

“One down,” she said, once the students were out of the room.

That’s her teaching philosophy in general, she said. Take one day at a time.

“As long as you know what you’re doing that day, you’re OK,” she said. “I might not have tomorrow figured out, but I can get through today.” 

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@pressherald.com