La rentrée scolaire a commencé dans le Disctrict of Columbia où se trouve Washington D.C., la capitale fédérale des Etats-Unis. Le journaliste a suivi la première journée de Paul Murdock, diplômé en sciences politiques et économie de 26 ans originaire de l'Utah, qui va enseigner l'expression artistique (language arts? je ne sais pas vraiment comment traduire cette expression ...) à des cm2 (fifth grade).
Où l'on voit que de part et d'autre de l'Atlantique, le stress est le même, identique la façon de faire se ranger les élèves devant la salle, similaire l'accent porté par les tuteurs sur la discipline: "La première semaine, vous ne pensez même pas à votre programme; votre premier objectif est la survie. Ne pas se faire bouffer par les enfants". Les problèmes budgétaires sont universels également: à la rentrée, il manquait six tables dans la salle de ce prof débutant.
.First-Day Jitters Aren't Just for Students
New Pr. George's Teacher Already Learning Lessons
By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 26, 2008; A01
In those last few seconds before the beginning of the school year at 7:45 a.m., Paul Murdock's baby face was a mask of concentration. As he stood outside Room 23, a column of almost two dozen fifth-graders marched right at him. He was nervous. It was his first day of class at Langley Park-McCormick Elementary School.
In fact, it was his first day as a teacher as he joined a professional corps of tens of thousands in Washington area public schools. Murdock was out of time to change his mind. These were his kids. He had to take charge.
"Right here," he said, gesturing to where the lead student should stand. "Second full tile. Make a line. Eyes forward. Hands to your side, please."
The children obeyed quickly and quietly, lining up single file alongside the wall. In uniforms of white polo shirts and navy blue pants and skirts, they looked like little police recruits. They, too, seemed a bit nervous, perhaps in need of reassurance.
"Welcome to Mr. Murdock's class," the teacher said. He led them inside.
And so school began yesterday for Murdock's class.
It was a story repeated at 209 schools across Prince George's County and at hundreds more in Howard, Charles and Frederick counties and in part of Anne Arundel County. Schools in Montgomery County and the rest of Anne Arundel open today; in Calvert and St. Mary's counties, they opened Wednesday. In all, that's nearly half a million Maryland children. Another 50,000 or so started school in the District yesterday.
Prince George's educators want to continue a trend of raising test scores and work themselves off a state watch list for struggling school systems. Like others nationwide, they are trying to meet steadily rising academic requirements under the No Child Left Behind law, close achievement gaps between students of different races and economic groups, and deal with tighter budgets caused by the economic slowdown.
Murdock just wanted to get his classroom in order.
Last Tuesday, Room 23's desks and plastic chairs were stacked atop one another. Some children's books were piled on a table, and a few hundred thin volumes sat in milk crates. The salmon-colored cabinets were dusty; the walls, bare.
Murdock's imagination worked aloud as he assembled the scene: Where would the library go? The class slogan? The teacher's desk? How would he arrange chairs and control access to the built-in bathroom?
"I didn't realize that teaching involved so much interior decorating," he said.
It was a first lesson for the tall, lanky new teacher from Hyrum, Utah, a small town not far from the Idaho border. It was his 26th birthday. For a long time, he had thought he would never be a teacher. A political science and economics major, he planned on law school. But it didn't feel right. So he applied to Teach for America and was accepted and assigned to teach language arts in Langley Park.
Elementary school, he said, fit his personality.
"Well, I'm a big kid, really. That's basically what it comes down to. I want to act in a silly way," he said. "This is one profession where you can be paid to be crazy."
Although Murdock received intensive training, there is no substitute for standing in front of a roomful of children, said John Malter, a sixth-grade teacher at the school and Murdock's mentor.
"Your first week, you're not even thinking about your curriculum. You just want to survive," Malter said. "You're hoping those kids don't eat you alive."
Langley Park-McCormick reflects the challenges and possibilities of teaching in Prince George's. More than 90 percent of the school's 440 students come from families poor enough to qualify for meal subsidies. Ten years ago, the school's students were evenly divided between blacks and Hispanics. Now about 85 percent of them are Hispanic, many of them children of immigrants. About 57 percent have limited English skills.
Under its previous principal, Sandra Jimenez, the school met state testing goals for the past three years. Her success earned her a sudden move to a struggling nearby middle school. An assistant principal, Denise Bush, filled in last week while superiors scrambled to find a new leader, eventually naming one Friday.
On Wednesday, teachers were summoned to the media center for a speech by Superintendent John E. Deasy. The pep talk was beamed live from school headquarters in Upper Marlboro over a rickety Internet connection.
At first, the screen showed Deasy speaking, without sound. A technician fiddled with the settings, only to see the superintendent's image briefly upside down and tinted green. The mood was cheerful. A handful sang, "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands!" By the time the connection was working, Deasy was 25 minutes into his speech, and the audio still came in partly garbled.
Deasy laid out some of the problems Prince George's faces: One in four ninth-graders does not complete high school in four years. About 6,000 of the county's 130,000 students are chronically truant. And the county shares the financial woes brought on by the national economic slowdown. But he concluded with a story about César Chávez, repeating a slogan the late civil rights leader was known for: "Yes, we can, and we will," Deasy said.
By Thursday, Murdock's room was still missing eight desks. His school-issued laptop didn't have a power cable. He and several other teachers couldn't log in to the school system's new computerized attendance and grading system. At a meeting that afternoon, when Bush asked the teachers how many had class phones that didn't work, at least a dozen raised their hands.
But Murdock was resolutely enthusiastic, cleaning his room with the help of his wife and 15-month-old daughter and rummaging for treasure left by previous teachers.
"Oh my gosh, look at all these paints!" Murdock said when he discovered a stash in a cabinet. "And glitter. Glitter's awesome."
His room gradually took shape. An encyclopedia set cobbled together from three editions -- 1977, 1981 and 1986 -- sat along the window. Computers were rearranged so Murdock could see their screens more easily. The teacher's heavy, ancient desk went in a corner. He was gaining confidence.
"It's going to work out," Murdock said. "The first day comes whether you like it or not."
So it did. In his last minutes of freedom, he stood in the hallway with a veteran fifth-grade teacher, Deirdre Blackmore.
"It'll be good," Murdock said, as much to himself as his colleague.
"It'll be fine," Blackmore said. "It'll be fine."
"We'll get through it," Murdock said.
There was a brief pause.
"Let's do clocks," Blackmore said, suddenly. They synchronized watches so they could swap students in the hallway rapidly.
A group of fifth-graders approached. "Are these my babies?" Blackmore said. "Yes, these are my babies!" She danced a little jig.
Murdock's students were late, and he couldn't stand the wait. He walked downstairs. "I have to find my kids," he said to a passing teacher in the hallway.
He did, then rushed back to his doorway. The children arrived. The long wait was over. Murdock was now a teacher