Thoughts & Fragments of a 1st Grade Teacher Mom: A Timeline Leading Up to Meet the Teacher

Authored by Mary McCall McArthur

August 1: Check email. Read Back to School Faculty Agenda. Make childcare and meal prep plans for days I’ll work in my room after PD time.

August 2: Check email. Read they’re looking for breakout sessions. I might have something that can help?

August 4: Thanks to childcare, by 7:30 I have a full day of child-free prep in the classroom ahead of me. I’m going to get so much accomplished, especially now that the floors are clean. Before leaving for summer, we purged outdated materials and sorted them by category. What’s left is organized chaos. 

Time to begin. 

Place a pile here, stick some stuff there, create a new category. Wait, what’s this? Pull out faded, spiral bound book labeled “RANCK” and inspect copyright date. 1995!? How?

Timidly place Ms. Ranck’s “Elements of Reading” curriculum map in the large black, garbage bag to sneakily conceal the summer checklist oversight.

Look around. Piles, piles everywhere. Deep breath. Water break. Keep going. 

Soon the double cabinets are beautifully bare, sanitized, and seemingly light! I wonder how this cabinet would look over there? The class would have easier access to their materials. Quickly learn a piece of poster board underneath creates a smoother slide, preventing excess snags on the carpet. Set cabinet in proposed spot. Step back. Gaze. Nope. Scooch it over. Step back. Gaze again. Nope. This is creating less space to gather as a whole group on the carpet. I’m creating a community, not dividing it. Shimmy poster board back under the cabinets, and move it back to its original space. 

Decide it’s a better investment in the long run to pull out all of the materials stowed away in the window seats. Yes, it’s creating more piles, but it’s eliminating duplicates. One place for each category. It’s creating time in the future. 

Sort, pile, stack, mound, create more categories. 


1 empty double cabinet and 2 empty storage benches. 

That’s a good stopping place. It’s half past 4 anyway. 

Gather things, shut door behind me, and pretend it didn’t take 8 hours to clean and organize materials that won’t even be seen most of the time… No big deal. It was an investment in the future me’s sanity. 

An investment. 

August 5: Return to piles. It’s worse than I remember. Thankfully I brought reinforcements. Will drove separately with tools in tow to fix the broken easel, adjust desk heights, reach the really tall things, and help me meticulously hang new butcher paper, among other things here and there. Most of the morning has passed, but most of the heaping piles have yet to be addressed. 

(Enter Mrs. Hoppe)

She’s kindly taking a break from New Teacher meetings to willingly assist on the last available Friday afternoon of summer break, to walk in on one of the biggest disasters ever to have been created by a single person in a classroom.

“Welcome! So glad to have you!! I’m really looking forward to the year.” At least I think I said that. Goodness, I hope I said that.

What I do remember thinking (feeling?) was panic filled prayers. Prayers she didn’t go straight to Cassie’s office and quit as soon as she walked out of here. “I promise it doesn’t always look like this,” I desperately joke (OMG, pleeeease don’t quit).

She’s offering to help, she’s willing to help, I need the help, but among the now suffocating clutter, I couldn’t even form thoughts, much less a directive. If one were to have imagery of my brain, it would have been actual question marks and squiggles. No real thoughts. Just clutter. 

Spend the rest of the day placing categorized materials. It took all afternoon, and I’ve yet to address the elephant in the room: the neglected classroom library. 

The classroom library may be my nemesis. Sometimes when I’m looking at it across the room, I’d swear it’s mocking me. 

Thankfully I categorized half of the books earlier in the summer. I’ll simply pick up where I left off! Begin sorting, create piles. Ugh. I JUST got rid of PILES!!!! 

Pile, sort, hoist, dust, sanitize, repair, tape, stack. 

Realize it’s nearly silent on my end of the building. Check time. It’s 4:25 on a Friday. 

The ASC workers probably hate me. 

Where does all the time go? 

Text the number, push anxiety aside, grab belongings, calm nervous feelings, convince myself that next week will bring plenty of opportunities, walk towards the Commons, take deep breaths, spot my child, smile… “Hey Norah!!!” Crouch to accept the sweetest hug from the most petite “big girl.”

August 6: Wake to two tiny humans harmonizing “mAHHHHH mEEEEE.” Stumble out of bed, and feeling the full weight of back to school exhaustion, aches, and sinus pressure, find the Advil, take a decongestant, and start the coffee. “MAAAHHHmEEEE.”

Pour juice, open granola bars, turn off alarm, let dog out, open blinds, and wonder if the smell of coffee brewing is enough to begin combating fatigue… 

“Maahhhmeeeee… mommy… mommy. MOMMY!” 

Swallow anxiety, greet extra-energetic children, search for lost lovies under covers.

Hunt between couch cushions for remote. Click sound to minimum volume level. 

(Queue Bluey theme music)

Mindfully practice gratitude for the coffee that is slowly sipped, not speedily gulped, for the brilliance of this tender children’s show, and for the time we have together before I work in my classroom later. 

Anticipate the coming year.

Acknowledge sadness of an all-too-brief season.

Watch the sunrise.

Pull up roster to pray for each student.

Work Week Begins

August 8: Drive to school worrying about the large decomposing lizard on a sticky trap, mouse “gifts” and crumbling wall I found in opposite corners of the classroom over the weekend. 

*Shivers of disgust*

First plan when get to school: Search for someone willing to move the lizard and let Greg know about the water-damaged wall. 

Then, First Grade Team works together to:  

-Sort through dozens of shipping boxes, dividing supplies between classrooms or the workroom, cross-referencing items received with receipts and highlighting what’s missing. 

-Distribute EPI boxes with individual student supplies. 

-Distribute workbooks: three literacy, one math.

Last, try to find spaces to store supplies, but…where do I put them

To make space, the books I lugged (over the weekend) to the desks to categorize now need to move back to the shelf, but the shelf can’t be moved until the damaged wall is repaired, and it’s entirely too heavy to move when books are ON the shelf. 

What to do until then?

Refocus energy into organizing the books by labels. Print tester labels and place them on the spine of the books. LOVE IT! Now commit to doing that hundreds of times. I

It’s gonna be great. I still have time! 

Tuesday, August 9: Delayed start to the whole school meetings. We quickly make alternate arrangements for Norah to go to work with Will and since I wasn’t driving all the way to the south campus, after dropping off my [tearful] Russel at daycare, I used the extra time to shop. For pillows. And Lamps.  

Our first back-to-school COVID guidelines two years prior had given me the needed push to toss the old pillows. 

I’m so excited to start the year seeing children’s full faces and look forward to bringing back comfortable spaces. Pleasantly walking through Walmart (yes, believe it or not, it’s a very decent place to shop around 8 AM.) I imagined students growing their love for reading, relaxed in the sunny window seat, propped against the new, plush pillows. 

Locate pillow aisle. Find patterns that blend with classroom color schemes. Fill cart. Run into Sarah Walker who shows me where she found a super cheap lamp. Score! 

After whole school meetings, I eagerly unload the morning’s purchases and place them around the room. Glancing at the window seat I reminisced how a little more than four years prior, I’d sat in the same window seat as a new employee, enormously pregnant, nesting in the warmth of the space that somehow already felt like it was mine. That peace is what I wish for students: for them to feel they belong right away. 

Assemble lamps. Find bulbs. Plug them in. 

The pillows are a nice touch. 

Wednesday, August 10: After Lower School faculty meetings, the entire afternoon is blocked off for classroom time. What a relief. 

After checking on the crumbling wall repair situation, the shelf needs to remain unplaced with books still in piles everywhere. It’s fiiine. We have plenty of labeling to do, and not just books.
Did y’all know first graders begin the year super pumped about having a desk? It’s their first time without little tables! Not only are they feeling the maturity of graduating to a desk, but they feel welcomed when they find their name. A name that’s been written with a fresh Sharpie, triple-checked for correct spelling, and letters that will serve as a “neat example” when children refer to this precisely centered reference atop their desk. 

During Meet the Teacher, when they curiously explore the inside of the desk, students will excitedly announce, “My name is on here!” when spotting their personal scissors, glue stick, and other supplies. The same enthusiasm is used if they spy names and birthdays written on the cupcake chart (birthdays are found by individually selecting “view contact info” on each students MySA profile) and parents, the sweet, nervous parents give that famous, tilted head smile of contentment when locating their child’s name written in the 1.5 inch tiny space holder found above the red cubbies of the hall. Some even pat their heart. 

Realistically, we teachers don’t have to do this. We know children could easily help us with most of the labeling once school begins. But, have you ever been surprised by a gift or an act of service and exclaimed, “You did that for me?!” It’s a similar energy. It’s the unexpected joy over the seemingly “small things” such as finding their name, that sets the tone of the beginning of the year. They feel instant belonging.

On the practical side, labeling everything in advance nearly guarantees a smoother start for the already hectic first days of school. Instead of noisy, chaotic sorting, we’re calmly focused on creating a community.

So, year after year, you’ll find south campus teachers unpacking each individual box and writing student names dozens of times across dozens of materials. While there’s a consistent concern if there will be enough time, this is one thing we will always prioritize- putting in the extra hours so the children can feel “instant” belonging.

Thursday, August 11: Oh my goodness, I’m leading a breakout session this afternoon and I’ve not taken the proper time to prepare. I’m fine! The plan was to keep it casual anyway. It’s a demonstration… not a presentation… I’m fine? I’m fine. 

After soaking up the knowledge and big questions of my incredible co-workers, I leave the North Campus, gearing myself up for another evening of trying to pull the classroom together. 

Call my mom. Stop for caffeine. Text husband reminder about Back to School party tonight. Set an alarm to leave no later than 4:15.

I entered the room to not only find that Tamara checked everything off of the discombobulated list I’d scratched out the day prior, but she even sorted the manipulatives by color, a request I didn’t make, but that she perceptively did to match other components of the classroom. I feel so seen. 

Inspect the newly mudded wall. Double check the fan is in optimum drying placement. 

Disappointingly, notice I’ve neglected to frame bulletin boards. It just looks weird without it. 

Search first grade workroom for border stash, measure what’s needed, locate step stool, tack border to secure, step off ladder, back up to observe, scan for stapler, realign border patterns for continuity, staple one end, remove tack, staple other end, remove tack. Trim any excess. Repeat 20 times. 

Am I going to have this room finished tomorrow?

Work past alarm. I’m not going to make that party tonight. Text Will updated evening plans. 

Friday, August 12: Hannah asks the team if we have plans to be here this weekend: Shea wants to schedule security if enough folks intend to be here. That’s so caring. “Surely I’ll be finished today. Can we definitively say a little later?”

Check on wall status. Needs sanding. Needs paint. Can move shelves soon, but not yet. 

Tamara and I print more library labels and finish sticking each book. 

Eventually, in a desperate effort to tidy up, we move the books from student desks to the shelf. It will be more work in the long run, but moving them now is a critical step towards progress. 

Tables are grouped, surfaces are cleaned, and supplies have been moved from the floor to the inside of desks. 

It’s coming together!

After days of sitting crumpled in the hallway, the carpet can finally move back to its permanent spot. Hoping the weekend gives these creases and lumps a chance to relax. 

“Bye, Tamara! Hope y’all have a great weekend! Thanks SO MUCH for all of your help.”

Turn and stare at the calendar wall. Use all of my remaining energy and focus to place pocket charts, posters, ten-frames, etc. in a mockup on the floor.

(Enter Greg) with sander and paint! WAHOO!! Progress!! He asks if I’d like to borrow the shopvac after he’s finished repairing the wall. I graciously declined, not wanting to be a further bother. “Someone else may need it!” Hilariously, I’m sure after years of working in a school, he’s learned to “place the vacuum nearby- just in case.” Not three minutes later, I retrieved the vacuum and started cleaning behind, inside, and on top of every shelf of the library and every crumbly looking corner of the classroom. Soonafter, he’s walking by with Marvin, humbly laughing. I think he needed a win. 

Check time. It’s time for me to leave. How? Why? I have to get my kids. 

Where. Does. The. Time. Go?

Finish tacking materials to the calendar wall and plan to finish it, plus the bookshelves, tomorrow. 

Tell Hannah I’ll be at school tomorrow, in case security needs a heads up. 

Saturday, August 13: Spend the day tying up loose ends: complete calendar wall, move all books temporarily to desks, rearrange shelves. Ask Judy to come look. Not quite right. She helps me lift one unit on top of another. Woah! This is the one. Begin moving books to their new home!

(All-school announcement that security is leaving.) Decide to stay. Tomorrow will be a day of rest. 

After several hours more, the largest project of the summer is finally complete. But wait. Nooo. I was afraid of this. The shelf needs support. I unload all of the books I’d just placed, and find a sturdy crate that will hold until I can come back tomorrow. Measure height and depth of shelf to makeshift a support at home.

Plan to stinkin’ come back tomorrow. 

Sunday, August 14: Make family plans to take the kids to the park at Lefleur’s. It’s the last day of Summer and it’s important to me that we make it memorable and fun. I’ve been absent too much lately. 

I leave a few hours before my family, ensuring the classroom will. be. finished today. 

Will comes later with the kids to assist with securing the shelves.

After replacing the books to check shelf strength, it’s finally done.

Eleven straight days of work, not including the random days in June and July, the classroom finally feels inviting, warm, and kid-friendly again. 

Windows are sparkling, lamps provide balanced lighting, student materials are within reach. 

Children’s supplies, tables, and spaces are labeled. 

Books are sorted by genre and color coded for easy returns. 

Cabinets and window seats have practical storage solutions. 

These are a few of the things. 

Could I have accomplished a seemingly put-together classroom during the allotted time of work week? Probably. But would it have the same tone and intentionality? Probably not. 

None of this is a complaint, by the way. I wholeheartedly think the time spent prepping my space provides closure for the previous year’s bunch I’ve grown to love and miss, while simultaneously opening my own heart to accept a new group. 

Being a teacher and a parent has grown my desire for the classroom to be more than a space. Walking into the ECC for Norah’s Meet the Teacher days have made significant impacts on me as a parent. The fine details of my little girl’s school picture on a lunch magnet, plants near the windows, labeled blue bags hanging in cubbies.. It’s so homey. These remarkable teachers made space for my child, and they hadn’t even met her yet. One walks in and feels the love they’ve created in the space, which compliments the words they use to greet and comfort us as we embark on the new year. I want this feeling for the parents of my students and will do whatever it takes to ensure parents feel secure that their babies have a space. It takes time. Often it takes extra time. It’s straining, but it’s worth it. 

August 15: Meet the Teacher is done. Let’s eat some lunch. Oh my goodness. Tomorrow is school. I HAVE NO LESSON PLANS. It’s fine. I have time. <3

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