Students around the Valley are set to start classes on Monday, but teachers have already been hard at work getting ready for their arrival. School District 51 staff members will be finishing up the last of their teacher in-service days on Thursday.
A new school year brings new students, new challenges and new goals. These in-service days are an opportunity for teachers to get the kinks worked out and lesson plans straightened out so when the students return, they can maximize their time in the classroom.
Drive by a Mesa County School District 51 high school, and it would appear as though class is in session. Parking lots are full and powerpoint presentations are up and running. The only difference today? These students are teachers.
"Today here at Palisade High School we have sixth grade through 12th grade, English language arts, social studies and science teachers," District 51 secondary English/Language Arts content specialist Krista Smith said.
Teachers and administration across the district are heading to class for the second of three teacher in-service days.
"It gives us a chance to benefit from each other, but also to grow and develop as a team," Palisade High School English/Language Arts teacher Jackie Anderson said. “We're making sure we're aligned by grade level, within content areas, but also as whole schools and as one large school system."
Last summer, District 51 switched over to a new curriculum to accommodate new state standards. This year, in-service days are a chance to go over an updated version of the curriculum and discuss how to present it to students.
"[We want to know] how are the best practices to get that for all learners? [That way] all kids have the opportunity to show mastery by the end of the school year," Smith said.
"We’re all on the same page making sure we have the same standards for students, the same expectations, and sharing what works best," Anderson added.
This prep time will also allow staff to address obstacles they'll face in the upcoming year.
"Definitely going to a new curriculum with fewer resources to support those structural needs is challenging for teachers,” Smith said about the district’s budget cuts. School District 51 has endured budget cuts over the past three years.
Ask any teacher, though, and they’ll tell you time is the most precious resource.
"We have so much time with your students, and so much time in the day. If we had more time, I think everything would be easier. Money is always nice and helps and it supports our instruction and it supports our students." Anderson said. “But time with our students, time in the classroom and time to collaborate, that’s what I always prize the most.”
It’s obvious these prep days aren't just for the teacher's benefit.
"Once they come through the door, it’s students who energize us and keep us focused and remind us this is what we're here to do, to reach them," Anderson said.
These in-service times are also a time to make sure lesson plans across grade levels line up. The school district says there is a lot of movement within the district, so if a student leaves his or her school and transfers to another one, the student will be able to jump right in without missing a beat.
Elementary school teachers and staff will participate in their third and final in-service day of the school year on Thursday. High school staff will have one extra in-service day.