PRAIRIE DU SAC, Wis. — Veteran teachers may have more experience, but they look forward to the first day of school just as much as students do.
Kelly Olson and Mary Bittorf first met at a teacher orientation in 1995. Now, they both teach sixth grade in the Sauk Prairie School District.
“I love that there’s never a dull moment, especially in the middle school,” Olson said. “The genuine joy that kids have and feel, and the lightbulb moments like when something finally makes sense and it just clicks.”
Even though their building doesn’t have central air conditioning, they said they love that age of students, and they love their school.
“They’re (students) really starting to become their own person,” Bittorf said. “They figure out what they like, what they don’t like.”
A lot has changed from when they first started teaching.
“They didn’t have smartphones in 1995,” Olson laughed.
Data from Common Sense Media shows teens and tweens are using social media 17% more than they were just four years ago. That’s on top of more young people dealing with mental health challenges. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in every seven kids from age 5-17 had some form of mental health treatment in 2021.
“When we started, we weren’t having real mental health conversations about kids the way that we are now, and I think that’s a really great thing,” Olson said.
While social media has its downsides, Olson and Bittorf said it’s helped everyone learn to be more open about mental illness. That’s made it easier for students to talk about.
“You can see a student if they come into the classroom, and they’re very anxious or there’s something going on, and you can just chat with them,” Bittorf said. “It’s not like you always have to pull them out in the hall to have a conversation, but we can get done right by them. Even if they let a few things out, just kind of see them relax.”
Carol Patterson went to college for communications. When she worked at a pool over the summer, she said she fell in love with working with children, and changed her major to become a teacher. She’s seen a lot of changes in teaching philosophy.
“Today, there is really a focus on the student as a learner and as an individual,” Patterson said. “We’re looking at academic growth for each individual student, as well as their SEL or their social-emotional learning.”
She teaches fourth grade at Tower Rock. She said the COVID pandemic and the epidemic of school shootings have had an immeasurable impact on education, educators, parents and students.
“I think something like COVID is bound to dissolve itself,” Patterson said. “But gun violence hasn’t.”
While a lot has changed, the excitement for the first day of school has felt the same.
“I kind of feel like this is year one,” Olson said. “You feel like that every year.”
The Sauk Prairie School District’s first day of class is Sept. 5.