Welcome to class

MARQUETTE – On this day, the first official day of school in the area, Allison Harper woke up early, feeling a mixture of excitement and nervousness.

Harper wanted to make sure her first day of school ran as smoothly as possible, getting her books in order, checking and re-checking her materials to make sure everything was just so.

Because today, Harper, 25, begins her career as a public school teacher.

“I doubt I’ll get much sleep the night before,” Harper said with a smile Friday morning, sitting at a desk in her empty classroom in Negaunee Middle School. “I’ll probably be here way too early. I’ll probably double and triple check everything to make sure I have enough materials, make sure everything is set.”

A Northern Michigan University graduate, Harper will teach seventh and eighth grade English this year in Negaunee, having received notice she was hired just over two weeks ago.

With such a short time period to prepare Harper has been working in overdrive, getting her classroom and herself ready for her first year as a teacher.

Harper said it was “thrilling” to get the call letting her know she had the job.

“I just felt so honored,” she said.

She felt honored because though Harper is a new teacher, she isn’t all that new to the Negaunee district. It’s where she did her student teaching, under the direction of former English teacher Rae Ann Loy, and health teacher Mark Churchill. And Harper subbed occasionally in the Negaunee district as well.

She also spent the previous year working in Lakeview Elementary School as an AmeriCorps member, working to help improve the literacy rate among the district’s youngest students.

“It was really cool because I’m a secondary education teacher, but the elementary literacy program really gave me insight in how kids learn to read and the whole process of reading, which we don’t get in a lot of our secondary education classes,” Harper said. “So I feel like I learned a lot about the background and how these kids started out learning how to read.”

“It’ll be great in the years coming next because I was at Lakeview and I know a lot of those kids, so I’ll be familiar with a lot of the kids coming after this class,” she added.

After finding out she was to be Negaunee Middle School’s newest English teacher, Harper learned she would be teaching in the very same classroom where she had been a student teacher – the proverbial icing on the cake.

“This is my dream job and I’m so excited to be working here,” Harper said. “When I did my student teaching, I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, how amazing would it be if this could be my classroom?’ and now that it actually is, I have to keep pinching myself a little. It’s crazy. I never imagined that it would happen like this. It really is a dream come true.”

In the past two weeks, Harper has reviewed the district’s curriculum, prepared lesson plans, gone over the Common Core State Standards, prepared more lesson plans, and readied her classroom for the students that would fill those empty desks come Tuesday morning.

Her classroom looked ready on Friday, with one wall dedicated to bookshelves and “Welcome to Ms. Harper’s English Class!” spelled out in purple construction paper on a bulletin board just to the left of the door.

Harper seemed ready as well, speaking with excitement about teaching tweens, that awkward age between elementary and high school which many a television show or book series has been dedicated to.

“I love middle school kids,” Harper said. “They’re so unique and they’re so entertaining, and it’s fun to engage them. I think middle school is a great age to teach.

“You’d have to be crazy not to be a little nervous,” she said, laughing. “But I have a lot of resources.”

Those resources include plenty of veteran teachers – of whom Harper has said she’s already seeking advice – and her professors at Northern, who taught her how to adapt in the world of public education in Michigan, which has been known to throw a few curve balls every now and then.

“Northern taught us some of the changes that were coming,” Harper said. “I feel like I’m informed and expecting change, but you’re just going to have to be flexible and learn the changes and adapt to it, just like everyone else.”

For now, Harper is simply excited to finally get her first day as a teacher under her belt. She’s hoping to leave a lasting mark on her students, to impart the passion she feels for English on to them.

Coming from a family of teachers – her father was a teacher for the hearing impaired and her mother still teaches special education – Harper said it was “natural” for her to follow that same path.

And she knows exactly what kind of teacher she wants to be.

“The things that you remember are when your teacher really cares about you, when they’re interested in what you’re doing and when they really push you to succeed,” Harper said. “I hope to be that for my students. I hope they feel like I care and I care about their success.”

And as students walked in to her classroom this morning, Harper was there, likely way too early, ready to welcome them – right along with her – to their first day of English class.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.