PONCA, Neb. | All that preparation, planning and organizing had Lisa Wenger prepared for her first day of school as a teacher.
Or so she thought.
As she stood outside the doorway of her Ponca Public School art classroom on the first day of school Wednesday, she watched the hallways fill up with students. They were all new to her, just as she was a brand-new face to them.
That's when she realized, this was really happening. She would soon have students walk into her very own classroom for the very first time.
"I spent all that time planning, and then, there they are," she said.
Schools across Siouxland have begun a new school year or will soon. Inside many of them are people like Wenger, young teachers newly graduated from college, ready for that first step in their careers.
Wenger, a December University of South Dakota graduate, spent last spring substitute teaching in South Sioux City, her hometown, where she graduated in 2008 when known under her maiden name Lisa Wojcik.
In April, she submitted her only job application -- for the open art teacher position in Ponca. She was hired in June to teach students in grades 3-12.
"I was a little nervous at first," she said.
She sought advice from friends who are art teachers, her student-teaching mentors and others she worked with at the Sioux City Art Center. They gave her many ideas for her first full-time teaching job.
"I was never short on project ideas or lesson plans," Wenger said.
In June, she was given the key to her classroom. That feeling of being a teacher began to sink in.
"I think right when I got the keys to my room and I could walk in and say this is mine," she said.
Wenger spent hours in her room this summer, sorting art supplies, reorganizing and rearranging the room to her liking.
The calendar pages flipped to July, then August.
Last Monday was the first full day of work for Ponca's teachers as they reported for professional development and training. Wenger relished it.
"I'm going to go to my classroom and work in my room," she said.
An elementary open house Tuesday night only made her more excited, leading Wenger to start her first day a little earlier than planned.
"I did sleep, but I did wake up really early because I was so excited," she said.
What goes on in a new teacher's mind on the way to the first day of school? Rules. Lots of them. Wenger hoped she wouldn't forget going through all the school rules with her students.
Wenger arrived half an hour early. Then came the students, and a few nerves.
Rather than try to ignore her nervousness, she embraced it, shared it with her first class -- a group of seventh-graders new to the halls of the high school. They were facing a transition similar to Wenger's.
"I said to them they're new to high school, and I'm new here, too, so we'll learn together," Wenger said.
And that was that. Nerves gone. Wenger's first day couldn't have gone any better. No funny tales to tell everyone who asked her how it went.
"Everything went according to plan," she said. "I didn't have any mishaps."
She knows every day won't be like that. There will be days when she'll go home discouraged or upset about students.
But with a successful first day on the books, she couldn't help but think that first bad day was a long time away.
"I told my husband if this is how the rest of my career goes, I'm so happy and I love my job," she said.
That first day is done. Hundreds more to go.