Feature stories

3 educators, One Opening Day

How they set the groundwork for another successful school year

Annette Pineda, kindergarten teacher, PS/MS 31, Melrose, the Bronx


Annette Pineda, kindergarten teacher, PS/MS 31, Melrose, the Bronx

Starting the day
I’ve been teaching at my school since 1997, and every first day of school I’m always nervous. I got to school a little before 7 and prepared a basket with a sheet of information I want parents to fill out, markers and pencils, a supply list and a welcome letter. I have an alarm on my phone to remind me to stop what I’m doing in my classroom and go pick up the kids, so at 7:55, when my alarm rang, I grabbed my basket and headed over to the cafeteria to greet the children. Of course, it was mayhem, full of children and parents asking, “Is my kid on your list?”

Soothing first-day fears
I had about 10 kids sitting around my table in the cafeteria, and they looked pretty calm. The majority had been in pre-K, so they already had some experience. But I did have a crier, and boy, did he cry most of the morning. He kept asking, “Is my mother coming back? I don’t want to stay here forever.” I said, “Of course, I don’t want to stay here forever either.” He said, “You don’t live here?”

Solution: stickers
Back in the classroom, the students got to pick whatever colored table they wanted to sit at. I had a sheet they had to color, and that helped me have them busy while I was trying to fill out the roster. The little boy was still crying, so I had him hold my hand and walk around with me. When he saw that I was giving out stickers, he went over to his desk and guess what? He colored some of his worksheet and he was waiting for a sticker.

I assigned spots on my big rug with squares, and we went over the class rules. I asked them, “How do you think Ms. Pineda got this room together? I had to push and climb and decorate and tape and glue. We’re going to read a story about a teacher who has a lot of work to do, too.” And we read “Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten.” They loved it. They laughed and asked a lot of questions. Then we did a writing activity: Draw your favorite part of the story. A bunch of them were already able to write their own names, so that was nice to see.

A surprise treat
By that time, it was almost time to go, so I had them grab their backpacks. I had everybody all sitting criss-cross applesauce, facing the door and ready to go. Then I asked them, “Who wants to be a smarty-pants in my class?” and I showed them a surprise treat, a card with a pack of Smarties taped onto it. It’s going to be a busy year, and I’m looking forward to it.

Rachelle Vallon, middle school guidance counselor


Rachelle Vallon, middle school guidance counselor, Quest to Learn, Chelsea, Manhattan

Music to set the tone
On the first day, I like to get to school super early to make sure everything is set up. I’m a firm believer in positive energy and I’m one of those people who likes to start my morning off positively. I love to listen to music from the moment I step out of my apartment to the moment I walk into the school building. It’s my way to decompress and get ready for the day. So I had to have the right music for the morning, a mix of upbeat music that makes me want to dance. I’m not going to listen to Adele on the way to school.

Greeting new students
I don’t give myself a set schedule on the first day because I need to be in a lot of places at once. I focus a lot of attention on the 6th-graders because they’re transitioning into middle school and I want to make sure they have as much support as possible. So, with other 6th-grade teachers, I greeted students outside the auditorium, where we introduced ourselves to them. Then we moved upstairs to the 7th floor, where we started the day.

Settling in
When our 6th-graders come into middle school, they’re not familiar with their student ID numbers, and it was creating a long line at lunch because they need to look up their IDs to get school lunch. So I had been in school until about 7:30 or 8 p.m. the night before creating lunch cards for the 6th-gradersnotecards with their name, official class and ID number. I went around to the four 6th-grade classes to distribute their lunch cards. I want to make sure they’re as settled as they can be on the first day so they don’t run into glitches on the second day.

Change of plans
Normally after school I’d be in our PE and health content team as the wellness coordinator, but a returning student I have a good relationship with came in with her mother for a meeting. They had a personal emergency and the student was feeling a little anxious, so we created a plan moving forward to support her this year.

Planning pays off
Opening day feels like a special event or a wedding — you do all this planning for a couple of hours. But at the end of the day I felt really, really good. Everything I had set out to do got done. I felt pretty accomplished and motivated. Now there are a lot of things coming up for me as a guidance counselor that I need to start planning for, like high school admissions and creating a schedule. I did it for the 6th-graders yesterday, and now I have to do it for myself!

Sabrina Satterfield-Brown, technology teacher, PS 36, St. Albans, Queens


Sabrina Satterfield-Brown, technology teacher, PS 36, St. Albans, Queens

High expectations
I live in Coram in Suffolk County so I got up at 4:45 and left by 5:45 to get to school early. Before I even got the chance to start work, I had to drop by classrooms to check out issues with laptops and smartboards. Then I went outside and started taking pictures of children, because I try to do a collage of first-day photos in our school for parents. I was really excited because I really missed the kids! Every year, you think this is going to be the best year.

Always thinking
When I finally got back to my room, it was my tech period so I had to run around again to make sure everything was up and running. Every hallway, I’m looking — OK, there’s a laptop cart, who am I going to give those to? I’m always thinking about how I’m going to organize and manage.

Going bananas for selfies
My first class was a 4th-grade class. The students were so excited to come into the lab — not just to see me, but because I have A/C in my room and it was so hot. We did a selfie writing assignment, which is a different way of doing an “all about me” in a technology theme. They had to tell a little about themselves and give four hashtags about how they felt and what they’re going to accomplish this year — like #sonervous or #technologyrocks. Then I asked, “Would you guys like to take selfies of yourselves to go with your assignment?” They went bananas. I passed around my iPhone and they made silly faces. It was a lot of fun.

A lot to juggle
At lunch, I had to take care of our photo release forms and call the DOE’s technology help desk. Between that and putting together a technology packet to give to parents, trying to do some work on the school website and organizing professional development for teachers with my principal, I got to eat a little bit of lunch. It was crazy.

The technology museum
Finally I had a 2nd-grade class, and they had never been in the lab before. They were really interested in my technology museum, which is old, broken technology we don’t use in the school — computers, monitors, Polaroid cameras, even an old heavy typewriter. I let them play around with it; I have screwdrivers and pliers so they can open the computers up and touch inside. They really got a kick out of that.

A long trip home
It took me about an hour and 45 minutes to get home. I was exhausted, but then I had to pump up because my son is in 1st grade and wanted to talk about his day. He loves his teacher, and I want to make my students feel about me like he feels about her.

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