Even after 25 years in the classroom, SLPS teacher still gets first-day jitters
Students were starting to line up in the hallway of Nance Elementary School for breakfast on the first day of school, but Regina Lewis’ classroom was still quiet and empty.
“Believe it or not, teachers have first-day jitters,” Lewis said. “I have so many text messages from colleagues that everyone was still awake last night, couldn't go to sleep.”
Lewis has been teaching in St. Louis Public Schools since 1998, but she took an atypical path to becoming a classroom teacher. She spent more than 20 years as a substitute teacher in the district.
“I wanted to walk away from education so many times, because of my own frustration with not growing in the way I wanted to grow professionally. ... But I always found myself back in the classroom,” she said.
Now, Lewis says she’s accepted that education is her purpose in life. She participated in the St. Louis Teacher Residency program and became fully certified. This will be her second year as the lead teacher of a class.
Nance Elementary Principal Tyler Archer says Lewis’ time as a substitute makes her a tremendous asset to their school.
“You can't teach people experience, especially new teachers,” Archer said as he directed traffic outside the school. “So someone who's been in the community and in a school district for a long time, they bring a lot of knowledge, they bring a lot of experience working with our students and their families that you can't teach someone.”
Back in the cafeteria, Lewis lines up her first grade students using a method she spent years perfecting.
“My students that know me, give me a hug and a hush please,” she calls out.
The students wrap one arm around themselves and put a finger to their mouths to remember to stay silent. They file quietly to their brightly decorated classroom.
To ease first-day jitters, Lewis sits the students in a circle and asks what they did this summer. They describe trips to water parks, days in the park with Dad and even a viewing of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." When it comes time for Lewis to share, she tells the class she worked during summer school and went to a conference in Washington, D.C.
“Being that I worked all summer to be a better teacher for you, we’re going to have a great year,” Lewis said.
As the morning goes on, the students start to loosen up, smiling as they color with fresh crayons that were waiting on their desks.
“It's very scary, being in a new environment, to have a new teacher, and everyone's learning everyone,” Lewis said. “But when they lose that fear, and you can see that they're starting to trust that you have their best interest at heart, I think that's my best moment of the day.”