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Head of the Class: First day of school for first-year teachers

As students are preparing to attend school in a matter of a few days, there are also some who are getting ready to teach in the classroom for the first time.

Leah Motl loved music. Ever since finding her affinity with it during high school, the La Crescent native found music to be fun and challenging. She found opportunities to practice her talent through band, jazz band and symphony orchestra, and couldn’t picture giving it up once she graduated.

Rather, Motl wanted to continue sharing her passion for the musical arts with others who may come to find a love for it, just like her. She enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater as a music education major, where she was able to continue performing in ensembles like orchestra.

“After completing my first semester, I fell in love with getting kids excited about learning music and playing an instrument,” Motl added.

Upon graduating last spring, Motl got hired at IJ Holton Intermediate School. She found the district to be the perfect place for her first job right out of school. She would be close to family, and upon hearing about Austin’s strong reputation of supporting the arts, she was confident in her choice.

While at IJ, she will be teaching orchestra for fifth and sixth grade students. Starting off as a completely new teacher entering into the career field for the first time, Motl went right to work getting things ready for school, which starts on Tuesday.

“Preparing for the school year has been both exciting and fast-paced,” she said. “I have already met many of my students at orchestra camp in August, and I have been busy taking inventory of instruments, getting to know staff and working closely with our music team to ensure a great school year.”

Leah Motl sits in the orchestra room where she will be teaching students in her first year at I.J. Holton Intermediate School starting Tuesday. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

With school only a few days away, the only thing that Motl has left to do is to receive her first class of students, and that’s something she can’t wait for as she starts teaching.

“I’m most looking forward to getting my feet wet and finally starting my career,” she said. “This year, I want to focus on being a role model for my students, as well as helping them set goals and teaching them how to be a musician.”

Some who were in another occupation ended up pursuing education.

When Allie Gearhart had the chance to work for the United Way of Mower County after graduating college, she also had the opportunity to work with the nonprofit’s early childhood education programming that prepares children for kindergarten.

The Cedar Falls, Iowa, native did research and managed the programs while learning more about Austin. During this time, she had an epiphany of what education meant to her.

“I realized just how important education, as a whole, is for the wellbeing of our citizens,” she said. “With this, I enrolled in a graduate program and started this awesome and fulfilling journey toward becoming an educator.”

Gearhart obtained her teaching license, and now she teaches fourth grade at Sumner Elementary School. With students looking forward to a new school year on the 45/15 schedule, Gearhart looked forward to the first day of school as a first-year teacher. She felt a mix of emotions ranging from excitement, nervousness and eagerness. Now that five weeks have passed since the first day, Gearhart felt her “all things new” feelings subside, though she still feels giddy about being a classroom teacher.

Each day, Gearhart helps her students learn various skills and subjects that will prepare them for moving onto IJ Holton Intermediate School next fall. Being a new teacher has its challenges in itself, but Gearhart found that she was learning just as much from her young students as they were from her.

“I know my students will probably teach me more than I will teach them, they have so much to offer,” she said. “But, that’s the beauty of education. It’s a never ending cycle of evolvement and growth for both teachers and students alike. This year, I want to focus on building relationships with my students, a strong classroom community, and providing learning opportunities that spark my students’ greatest potential.”

When Gearhart obtained her licensing and degree, she could have gone on to a different district to teach. However, APS felt like home to her, which led to her seeking a job here in town. Since her experiences at United Way developed her love for the community, Gearhart couldn’t imagine being anywhere else but here.

Especially as a new teacher.

“I fell in love with this place,” she said. “I have never been a part of a stronger community of people who are willing to help lift others up when they are needing it most. Austin Public Schools has been no different, and I feel beyond supported here. Although I’ve worked in public service for the duration of my time in Austin, I feel that this community and its people have done more for me than I could ever do for it. It’s truly become home and I don’t imagine working anywhere else.”