This is the first of an occasional series of articles that will follow St. Mary's County elementary school teacher Delphine Lincoln through her first year in the classroom.

Delphine Lincoln scrapped the daily planner most teachers use to write out their lessons. Not enough room, she said. So she typed her lesson plans, accounting for every block of time in the school day.

From 9:10 to 11:15 a.m., Lincoln will read to her second-grade students. They will write in their journals. On their own, they will read books they choose from the library cart.

Then teacher and students will study words. One session will be about synonyms and antonyms. Another will be about consonant blends. They will all say the sounds together: "br" as in brother, "fr" as in friends, "dr" as in drooled.

Meticulous it is, she said, but she would not have it any other way. This is Lincoln's first year teaching, and she wants to make sure she does it right.

Throughout the Washington region, more than 1,000 men and women stepped into their own classrooms for the first time when school started this year. In Southern Maryland alone, there are more than 400 new teachers, some of them with experience elsewhere.

A national teacher shortage, combined with a large number of baby boomer retirements and a move toward smaller classrooms, created a record number of teaching vacancies in many school districts. Some were still scrambling to fill all their positions during the days leading up to the opening of school, making this summer one of the heaviest recruiting seasons ever.

Many systems, including St. Mary's County Public Schools, are striving to diversify their teaching staffs, but that's not what attracted Lincoln to the county. She was more worried about what kind of support she would receive as a new teacher rather than as a minority teacher. But when she was hired at Banneker-Loveville Elementary School, she found out she would have a mentor to help her. "It's things like that that a new teacher needs to hear," she said.

Now that the hiring is finished, the new teachers, some of them provisionally certified, are making their way through the hurdles of public education. And school districts are figuring out how to give them the support they need to perform well. This is when new instructors must show what they're all about, and that can be nerve-racking.

"I have to establish a way of doing things," Lincoln said as she finished writing her students' names in her grade book, "making sure I have them in alphabetical order."

Her way of doing things is neat and orderly. In class, her clothes are crisp, her headband keeps her hair perfectly in place, and her handwriting would make any teacher happy.

This is not the first time Lincoln has established her way of doing things. At 32, she is already a wife, a mother and a former banker.

Lincoln had her life figured out before she graduated from high school. She would work at a bank and eventually become a branch manager.

"I wanted to be in the corporate world," she said. By 1993, she had reached her goal. She was a branch manager for Bank South in Georgia, her home state.

But almost a decade after she crafted her master plan, she decided to forgo it all for teaching. "I realized that there had to be something else out there for me," she said.

By 1996, she was back in school, first at a community college and then at the University of North Florida. She had moved to Jacksonville, Fla., because her husband was stationed at a Navy base there.

While caring for her infant daughter, she took 18 to 20 credit hours each semester and completed three teaching internships before receiving her education degree in April.

Being a mother reinforced her desire to teach. "The nurturing part kicked in," she said. "On a day-in, day-out basis, I'm teaching her things."

Her husband's transfer to St. Mary's County brought her to Banneker-Loveville, where just over two weeks ago she started teaching. Next year, she will take the exam to become a certified teacher.

Lincoln's mentor, resource teacher Jamie Pegher, helps her get started by looking over her lesson plans and occasionally modeling teaching strategies to her. Lincoln participates in training and refresher courses and, on her own, reads books and surfs the Internet for the latest in educational theory. She keeps up with everything her school board is up to. "I'm learning the school system," she said.

But for Lincoln, the first few weeks of school have been less about benchmarks and theories and more about getting her second-graders to trust and respect her.

"I care a lot about character," she said. "I have to model caring and fairness."

During recess one day, she kept a student in to help him finish a writing assignment. "Concentrate for me," she told the boy, Frankie, as he tried to write, "These are the reasons a cat is a good pet."

He stumbled on the word "reasons."

"Can you spell sons? Like father and sons," she said. He did, and she sent him out to recess with a pat on his back.

He just needed a little extra help, she said.

So does Lincoln. Teaching is not easy, especially for someone who is just starting, she admits, but she's glad her banking days are behind her.

"I've achieved what I set out to do," she said. "I'm in awe. This is my classroom. This is my desk."