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School’s back in session The other side of the desk

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New teachers get the first-day jitters, too

By Greg Summers

The first-day classroom butterflies applies to teachers, too. 

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Lancaster County School District Superintendent Dr. Gene Moore knows well what Buford High School Biology and Physical Science teacher Patrick Marshall and South Middle School teacher Nick Thompson will be going through Monday morning, Aug. 19. They are among the county’s first year teachers. 

Moore said a September 1977 day in a math class at Winston Salem’s East Forsythe High School isn’t that far away. Moore was no longer facing the desk. He was the one sitting behind it. And some things, he said, well, you just never forget.

“When it’s your first class, it’s a different thing,” he said. “I don’t recall having any doubts about being a teacher, but my first few days as a teacher were a bit anxious. How you begin sets the tone.

“Talk about a shock, I was going from Indian Land, which was so small when I graduated high school that Algebra II was taught every other year because of the number of students, to a math department that had between 15 to 20 teachers.

“And to add to it, I was worried whether I knew enough to answer the tough questions,” Moore said. “I think that made me work five times harder. Right now, I think schools of education are doing a better job of prepping teachers of the classroom, but it is still a tough year; you’re learning as you go, so to speak.”

Thompson, a 2005 graduate of Lancaster High School, is following in the footsteps of his grandmother and dad, LHS Assistant Principal Vernon Thompson, who were both educators. 

Thompson teaches eighth grade keyboard and basic computer concepts and is an assistant football coach at SMS. He started coaching student-athletes there as a volunteer while attending the University of South Carolina Lancaster.

“For me, this is home,” Thompson said of South Middle School. “Lancaster High School is my alma mater, but South is my home.”

Thompson said being a third-generation educator has given him a backstage view of all the ends and outs.   

“Following after them is definitely a double-edge sword,” Thompson said. “I knew it (education) was where I wanted to be and what I wanted as a career.” 

However, unlike Moore was some 36 years ago, Thompson won’t be looking in the face of his students. They face the window, not his desk. That way, Thompson sees what his students are looking at on the 28 computer screens in his classroom.

It’s a welcome change for Thompson. After trying his hand in the private sector, Thompson has found a new “old” career in the classroom. It’s new, he said, because he’s never done it. That’s why he is both excited and apprehensive about what Monday will bring.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous,” Thompson said. “My big concern right now is not being able to answer a question for someone. I’ve always been told it’s OK not to know. If I can answer it, we’ll go from there. If not, I’ll have the answer tomorrow.  

Thompson said he hopes to become the type of teacher and mentor for his students that Charisse Witherspoon and Alex Dabney were for him at LHS.

“I took a lot more away in their classes than English and Math,” he said. “They taught me more about life than they thought they did.”

Dabney, now principal at Andrew Jackson High School, calls Thompson’s sentiments the ultimate compliment for an educator.

“I’m not very good with words, because I’m a math person,” Dabney said. “I can tell you for a classroom teacher, moments like this are few and far between. It’s nice to know you made that sort of impact.”

Grateful to be home in Lancaster

Marshall’s calling to the classroom didn’t follow the typical route either, but the LHS Class of ’09 valedictorian and Wofford graduate said following his heart led to Room 302 at Buford High School. He learned in late May that he would be joining the BHS faculty after practice teaching at Byrnes High School in Duncan, (Spartanburg).

“I always had education and coming back here in the back of my mind because I had some good teachers who like what they do,” Marshall said. 

Until his junior year of college, Marshall was seriously considering going into the medical profession. However, two weeks into the fall semester, Marshall said he realized “that wasn’t for me.”

“People who make good grades are supposed to become doctors and lawyers, but it wasn’t really what I wanted to do,” he said. “I switched and was able to get caught up.”

Marshall isn’t apprehensive about Monday, though he is ready to get started. Great teaching he said, is a mixture of priorities and hard work.

“I really like the small feel of Buford High,” he said. “It takes someone who can relate to students, but at the time, you aren’t there to be their friend. You are there to educate them.”

It’s quite possible that before Monday is out, Moore could be sitting at a desk in either Marshall or Thompson’s classroom for a brief visit. The superintendent will spend much of the day making his annual rounds to the county schools, encouraging faculty, support staff and students alike.  

“You know, I guess I’m a lifetime student,” Moore said laughing. “Think about it: I’ve pretty much been going to school my whole life.” 

Contact copy editor Greg Summers at (803) 283-1156.