With just a few days before students fill the empty chairs at Kelly Creek Elementary School, Amanda Ewing moves among bins of books and school supplies, trying to pull her fifth-grade room together.
Ewing is one of the 55 brand-new teachers setting up their classrooms in the Gresham-Barlow School District for the first time, nervously awaiting their new students.
Kelly Creek Principal Nancy Torbert says Ewing has no reason for nerves, noting she will "be supported by everyone here, but most closely by her mentor and fifth-grade team."
Torbert says she hired Ewing because she was "impressed with her compassion, advocacy for students and their individual differences and her authenticity."
Although this is her first year with her own classroom of students, at just 25-years-old, Ewing brings rich teaching experiences to her Gresham students. As a child, the Eugene native spent time in the first-grade classroom of her mom, who taught in public schools for 40 years. Ewing loved being in her classroom and around schools and teaching.
"I would set up a school and teach my stuffed animals and dolls at home," she says.
Facing a classroom full of fifth graders, Ewing is most nervous about building her own style as a new teacher." She also says it is nerve-wracking "coming into a school where everyone stays for a long time."
Torbert says Ewing impressed the hiring team in her 30 minute tryout lesson in a fifth-grade classroom. "She did not know us or our students. She started her lesson introducing herself with a rap song she created (having) students divide into groups and write a rap song about something memorable in fifth grade," Torbert notes. "All students were engaged, participated and had fun. It was a wonderful demonstration of her ability to connect with students, which is a skill we can't teach."
Ewing graduated from the University of Portland with a degree in social work and began her social work career with an internship in the emergency department at Portland's Randall Children's Hospital.
She then lived in Haiti and worked in an orphanage for the nonprofit humanitarian organization Grace International. Part of her job was to teach English to adults, and she learned Haitian-Creole in the bargain. While in Haiti she also fell in love and is working to get her fiancé to the U.S. so they can marry.
Following her stint in Haiti, she worked at the Relief Nursery in Eugene. Although she liked social work, "I realized I was meant to be a teacher with kids in a classroom."
Ewing thinks teaching is "one of the most rewarding jobs" there is. "You really get to know the kids. You get to keep them for a year and build relationships."
She was accepted into the prestigious national Teach for America program and was assigned to a school in Liberty City, an extremely poor and turbulent neighborhood in Miami. The challenging stint teaching kindergarten in Liberty City made her realize, "I needed more experience."
Ewing earned a graduate degree in education and an endorsement for teaching ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) at George Fox University and has gained experience as a substitute teacher.
She heard about the Gresham-Barlow opening through a friend and landed the job.
"The staff seems really great," she says, noting she appreciates being included in district equity training.
Although she likes teaching math and science, she says, "I really love teaching reading. At fourth and fifth grades, it is reading to learn instead of learning to read, and that's very exciting for the kids."
She's delving into the kid's books "Wonder," by R.J. Palacio and "One Crazy Summer" by Rita Williams-Garcia and creating lessons for those books.
Torbert says Ewing "is knowledgeable about content and curriculum, but puts relationships at the center of her practice."
Ewing, like so many other teachers, cites that magic moment that makes teaching worthwhile. "I love watching the kids understand something. I love watching it click."