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First-year Fairbanks teachers survive the school year

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Posted: Sunday, May 20, 2012 12:07 am

FAIRBANKS — The students bent over their final exams in concentration, scattered around the classroom in the few remaining desks. The other desks were stacked along the wall next to the piles of unused chairs. A full-size Yoda figure huddled next to the teacher’s desk, when it usually served as a foreground prop for the students — during a re-enactment of World War II, for instance.

It had been 281 days since her first day as a teacher, and on Friday, North Pole High School teacher Kelly Fezatte officially made it through the school year.

“There’s, like, a weird calm,” Fezatte said.

It didn’t feel like the last day for her, nor for the students, she said.

At the beginning of the year, Fezatte had four years of substitute teaching under her belt. On her first day as a true teacher, Fezatte had said she reached a place that was “very zen.”

The enlightened state of mind had returned.

“Oddly enough, people tell you the first year is hellacious, but it wasn’t,” she said. “I’ve been stressed, I’ve lived at school, but the actual classtime has been phenomenal. Being with the kids is easy.”

One day in September, Fezatte had a breakdown. It was 11 p.m. and she still didn’t know what the next day’s lesson plans were. She texted her friend and fellow teacher Mary McFetridge. McFetridge came by Fezatte’s classroom, salt and vinegar chips in hand, and the two wrote the next day’s lesson plans down together.

“Then she told me to go home,” Fezatte said. She said she didn’t have another day like that throughout the school year.

Fezatte depended on her neighboring social studies teachers, one of whom is retiring and one of whom will be on maternity leave next year, for help with everyday problems.

Now, with a true year under her belt, she doesn’t feel nervous for what is to come.

Quiet calm

At Hutchison High School, first-year teacher Alysa Loring sat behind her desk in her empty classroom. Though it was the last day of class for students, she had none. Of her five classes, only one was comprised of sophomores. The others were senior classes.

Wrapping up the school year can be stressful, but with mostly senior students, Loring faced difficult decisions.

“The most stressful thing was with those seniors who were on the borderline of passing,” she said. Luckily, she said, her class was never the sole reason a senior couldn’t graduate.

Loring spent time as a California teacher in the state’s emergency credential program and as a English teacher in Thailand. She substitute taught at Lathrop for one year before becoming an English teacher at Hutchison. Teaching was not exactly new to her in her “first year.”

“I don’t know if it feels different or not,” she said, with a year under her belt. “In any position, more experience is a good thing.”

She said she did learn a lot of lessons in the last nine months, though.

She said it has been a challenge to find the balance of making sure student athletes hold themselves accountable for completing work and giving them time to do so. She also said she keeps in touch with parents well, but there is always room for improvement. She talks to other teachers and administrators for support.

This year, one of the things she said she would take away as a funny memory was that she became known as the “why teacher.”

“A lot of their writing skills weren’t very strong,” she explained. So, she would often question bits of their writing with a scribbled “why” as she edited.

In the halls, students began to address her as, “Ms. Loring — why?”

One of her senior classes chimed the phrase together on their last day of class with Loring. She found it memorable.

Final goodbyes

After Fezatte’s students left her class, some filtered in and out of the classroom to say goodbye. Some opened the door to simply wave and others came by with treats and hugs.

“I don’t think there’s been a single day that I haven’t laughed with kids,” Fezatte said.

She remembered times when in-class movies struck chords with the students and they shed some tears. She remembered when her students were studying the Berlin Conference and they played the game “Risk” with maps of Africa. Her students call her “Mrs. Fez” because it’s shorter than her full name and as a reference to “That ‘70s Show” and the foreign exchange student who is called “Fes.” Fezatte is from Canada.

“I’m just so excited,” she said. “I questioned many times this year if this is what I want to do. There are no more questions. You know after the first year if this is what you are supposed to do.”

Contact staff writer Reba Lean at 459-7523.

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