VACAVILLE — Mallory Caruso was awash in a sea of books last week.
The 24-year-old first-grade teacher sat on the floor of Room 109 at Fairmont Charter School, a Vacaville School District charter school, sorting what looked like hundreds of children’s books into piles.
“I have been garage saling – a whole lot,” she said, with a smile. “If you don’t do it right your first year, you’ll go broke.”
Also amid the pile of books and other classroom decorations were borrowed and donated items, coming from a teacher who is on maternity leave. She’s also discovered TeachersPayTeachers.com – an open-networking marketplace for teachers, where she copiously hunts for the “free stuff.”
First year or not, Caruso, who moved to Dixon in the sixth grade and did her undergraduate studies at the University of California, Davis, is set, organized and ready to roll.
She has been ready for quite a while.
Caruso’s road to teaching began in the fourth grade with a negative school experience which, she said, left her feeling “stupid.” She was diagnosed with dyslexia and wasn’t meeting expected grade milestones. While her home life was supportive, the school support lacked. She said she learned from that experience how not to be with her students.
“She made me feel stupid and I will never forget that,” she said of a former teacher. “It took me a long time to get over that.”
With that behind her, she’s got her own class of students to contend with now but said the experience gave her “empathy.”
“I will give these kids the support they need,” she said.
While she admits to some nerves about her first day of school, she said, “I’m mostly excited.”
“I really want to see my class list,” she said. “I feel I can get to know them through that.”
She also admits to nerves when it comes to meeting teacher milestones, but she’s been doing some reading, including a first-year teacher blog and they’ve allayed some of her jitters.
Coming off some years of district budget cuts statewide, she watched only three in her group of about 25 get jobs last year. She said she was worried about the statistics for when she finished her credentialing program a California State University, Sacramento.
“This year it opened up,” she said.
She received multiple job offers, including one in the Fairfield-Suisun School District, but the Vacaville offer put her closer to home and into the lower-income Title 1 school demographic she said she prefers.
Her enthusiasm is infectious as she talks, always with a smile, about her plans for this year, and the future – plans to make her lessons fun but engaging. She admits to stopping by on the weekend to drop off items, burning the midnight oil with lesson planning and wonders how she’s going to prevent job burnout – something she’s been warned about.
“I’m just so crazy involved in making sure I do things right for the kids,” she said. “If it needs a little bit extra, I’m OK with that.”
She knows to find the balance, somewhere, but the enthusiasm spills out naturally.
“I’m excited to be here,” she said.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.