Even after 35 years of teaching, the first day of school exhausts Mike Wise.
"In high school it’s not cool (for kids) to get too excited. As a teacher you have to really be enthusiastic, and it takes energy," says the Hempfield art educator.
"Once the class starts, it takes care of itself, but you want to give them a good first impression. You don’t want them to say, ‘Bleh, that old guy.’ "
Whether seasoned or inexperienced, hundreds of Lancaster County teachers returned to classrooms this week. Here's a look at the first day of school through the eyes of rookie and a veteran.
Clayton Blose, an Altoona native, graduated from Lock Haven University in May. On Tuesday he began his teaching career in an emotional support classroom at Ephrata High School.
Blose agrees with Wise that the first day of school is exhausting. His didn't end until 6 p.m. After students left, he spent several hours prepping for the next day and responding to emails.
"And taking deep breaths," he jokes.
As an emotional support teacher, Blose is responsible for multiple subjects, but he says his big goal the first week is building rapport. To learn about his students, he started classes by asking everyone to share their career goals.
The activity came in handy on the second day, when he hit a technology snafu. Blose had planned for his math class to take a pre-test, but the computer program wasn't set up properly.
"For a few moments, I went, 'Ohhh gosh,' and then I sort of bopped myself of the head and said, 'You went to school for this. You can handle this.' " he says.
Thinking on his feet, Blose assigned the class to research what kind of math they would need to do in their desired careers.
While the exercise didn't tell him about students' existing math skills, Blose says it had its own value: it helped students see the purpose of what they'll learn this year.
The activity also gave Blose the relief of overcoming his first classroom hurdle. "(It was) that moment everyone talks about where you have to go to plan B."
Though he'll surely encounter more of those moments, Blose feels confident that he's set a good tone so far. As he told his Ephrata mentor after the first day: "I survived. I'm officially a teacher."
Wise, the Hempfield art teacher, remembers being in Blose's shoes decades ago.
"I was just so nervous. Not sure how well (students) would listen and respond to me as a person. I was just a couple years older than they were," he says.
Wise found a mentor in his co-coach for the cross country team.
"I just latched a hold of him. I picked his brain completely," he says.
The fellow teacher told Wise that it's better to start strict and loosen the reins later; Doing the opposite is harder.
As he faced his afternoon painting class on Wednesday, Wise had a more intuitive sense of how to set the first-day tone.
And he wanted that tone to be personable and fun. Moving through dry procedures like roll call, he made puns and told short anecdotes. Then he shared a slideshow about himself, including photos of his son's wedding and of sand sculptures he created on vacation.
"I want (my students) to know I enjoy life and enjoy what I do," says Wise.
How to convey that while being professional is a skill he developed over time.
"It's easier now, especially since I'm older. When you're almost their age, you're not sure you're going to get the respect like I do now that I have gray hair."