A teacher’s dream – Rookie instructor returns to where her love of learning began
Andrea Hansen came home Wednesday.
Nearly 20 years ago, she was a first-grader in Room 2 at Alta Sierra Elementary school, fidgeting with her classmates in tiny plastic chairs and gazing at a teacher who, she believed, would take her anywhere she wanted to go.
The teacher played the piano for her students on good days and on others she taught them how to read and count syllables.
As many Nevada County students returned to the classroom Wednesday, Hansen returned to the same first-grade class in the same school to fulfill a dream undeterred.
“Not everyone gets this opportunity,” she said last week while stapling colorful borders to the walls of her classroom, “and not everyone gets this chance. I had such a positive experience in school, and I want to give something back and make their experience as rich as mine was.”
When Hansen, 24, walks the halls of Alta Sierra Elementary, it’s hard not to run into someone who shaped her life. Her first-grade teacher in Room 2, Betty Dobbs, serves as Hansen’s mentor for this, her first year as a professional teacher. A few doors down, there’s Melanie Rossovich, Hansen’s kindergarten teacher at Cottage Hill School, which the former Andrea Podkonyak attended the year before Alta Sierra opened.
“It’s incredible,” said Rossovich, who has taught at Cottage Hill and Alta Sierra for 20 years. “An exciting part of teaching with Andrea will be all the things I will get to learn from her. I look forward to that.”
Principal Pat Rath came to Alta Sierra when Hansen was in the fourth grade.
“She’s one of those kids you remember,” said Rath, an educator for 35 years.
Since leaving Alta Sierra, Hansen spent four years as a cross country and softball standout at Bear River High School, graduating in 1997. She graduated from Chico State in 2001, earning her teaching credential the following year and teaching for a semester in Beijing while in college.
She spent the next two years after graduation as a school substitute, including several stints at Alta Sierra Elementary.
Hansen held out for a job close to Nevada County, where her family still lives. Her husband, Jeff, is the latest generation to work at his family’s Hansen Bros. construction firm.
She is one of three brand new teachers at Alta Sierra this year, joining first-grade teacher Heather Godfrey and third-grade teacher Tania McDaniel.
Hansen’s position came open when another teacher took a leave for this school year, and it’s not clear if there will be a spot for Hansen at the school next year, Rath said.
Still, Andrea Hansen seemed as wide-eyed and idealistic as the students who greeted her Wednesday.
She admitted to spending many sleepless nights preparing for the big day.
“This sounds so ridiculous, but I want the children to have the best experience possible,” she said.
Hansen didn’t have much to worry about Wednesday. The children walked in and scanned the room for their neatly scripted nameplates on the desks, right next to plastic boxes stuffed with pencils and erasers. Before long, Hansen showed the children two jars – one full of marbles, one empty. For each act of good behavior, the marbles from one jar would be placed in the second jar. Once full, the children would earn a prize, hopefully one of many over the course of the school year.
Wednesday, the children sat rapt on a special red carpet, the room as quiet as a Montreal Expos home game.
“I was a first-grader at Alta Sierra School, just like you. This is the first time I’ve had my very own classroom, and I’m so very happy to have you in my class,” she said.
“I know that you’re really important, and we’re going to do really important things on this rug,” she told the students, sitting criss-cross applesauce in front of her.
In minutes, she perched herself on the colorful chair, reading the students “Franklin Goes to School,” which is about a cuddly domesticated turtle who has experiences not unlike his human friends. On a bookshelf, other “Franklin” titles abound, such as “Franklin Is Bossy” and “Franklin’s New Friend,” books Hansen hopes the children may read on their own by the end of the year.
Later, her hand puppet Leo the Lion helped the children decipher syllables. “Tea-cher!” “Pa-per!” they squealed as Hansen held her furry friend.
For now, it’s a bigger battle to help the students find the restroom on their own and avoid distractions during critical classroom times.
Within the three hours before lunch, a handful of students visited the nurse or needed an additional bathroom or water break.
In between, the students asked plenty of questions: “What were you doing during recess?” “Why was recess so short?” and, when Hansen pulls out individual grease boards for a math lesson, one chirps, “What’s math?”
It’s been a long haul for these troops, and it’s barely lunch.
“I haven’t even gotten to half the plans I’ve made,” Hansen said.
No matter. Sooner than later, the students will ditch their custom-made name tags and eventually remember not to call their teacher “Mom” or eat their whole peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches during the first snack period.
“In a month, it will be a hundred times better,” Hansen said.
“I know if we don’t get it all done today, there’s always tomorrow.”
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