What is teaching first grade like?

First grade is a time of immense learning and growth for most children - a fact that has been both the greatest joy and the biggest challenge of the job Susan Meyer has enjoyed for nearly 30 years.

When children enter Meyers' first-grade classroom at Oak School for the first time, they're basically kindergartners, Meyer said. But when they leave the following June, they are readers ready to tackle second grade. Readjusting to a fresh group of hungry learners each August is always a bit difficult, Meyer said, but like her students, she enters each school year with excitement for the learning she knows is ahead.

"First grade is when the children learn to read, and I love seeing that spark in their eye," said Meyer, who welcomed her last group of new students last fall. After 28 years at Oak School, she will spend her final day in the classroom June 3.

Meyer said she can't recall a time when she didn't want to be a teacher.

"I remember always playing school in the basement with my brothers and sister," she said.

She spent a few years teaching in the northern suburbs before learning of a need in Hinsdale. The village experienced an enrollment boom in the mid-1990s and teachers were in demand, Meyer said. She quickly fell in love with her job, the school and the community.

"Oak School has been wonderful," she said.

Meyer said the first 20 minutes of every school day are her favorite. That's when she hears stories of lost teeth, news of new siblings on the way and the pride in a student's voice after earning a yellow belt in taekwondo.

"They want to engage with you and tell what's going on in their lives," she said.

Her students' stories are always entertaining, if not entirely true. First-graders have vivid imaginations, and Meyer said she's learned to believe about half of what she hears.

"I tell the parents, 'I will believe half of the stories I hear about home if you believe half of the stories you hear about what goes on here,' " Meyer said.

The goal throughout the school year is for students to tell those stories in writing. By the end of the school year, most can write several sentences about a single subject, Meyer said.

When Meyer started teaching, computers didn't play a part in the first-grade classroom. Now, every child has their own iPad. Meyer said increased screen time has resulted in the need for more social direction. She creates opportunities for students to work in pairs, which encourages them to develop conversation skills while also learning reading, writing and arithmetic.

The job of a first-grade teacher is a physical one, Meyer said. Along with constantly bending or squatting to put herself at a child's eye level, she logs about 8,000 steps during an average day in the classroom.

"I never sit at my desk. You're always moving," she said.

Meyer said she's looking forward to getting her daily steps in slightly more scenic places, including the nation's national parks. But first, she will take some time to simply relax.

"Now, it's time for me," she said.

- by Sandy Illian Bosch

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean